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Stay on the safe side: Easy exercises to improve balance and prevent falls

Staying active and healthy is an important part of everyday life in retirement. And, now that you've got all that free time to enjoy, what better way to spend it than by getting exercise and stretching those restless limbs?

As important as keeping healthy is, though, it can be a challenge to move sufficiently when arthritis or mobility issues complicate workouts. However, taking part in any type of exercise, for any amount of time, will have positive effects on the body and mind—something important to consider, given June is National Safety Month.

Falls and injuries due to inactivity or simple slips are among the greatest risks you can face living at home or in a retirement community, and can occur even after precautions have been taken and additional safety equipment has been installed (like hallway bar grips). Learning exercises that can help improve balance and strengthen joints and muscles should be at the top of every senior's to-do list in June, as should learning about personal safety. Here's what you can do to join in:

Focus on your legs

Working up your leg muscles is one of the best defenses against a potential fall that you can pursue. Now, this doesn't mean you need to work strenuously, or really even break a sweat, as overexertion has big risks of its own. All that's needed is regular toning to shape your legs up, and then frequent, light exercise to keep your lower limbs active and in their best condition possible. Some exercises to start with include:

  • Standing on one foot: This can seem like a bit of a challenging prospect, so if you don't feel totally comfortable standing on one foot, have a sturdy chair or table close by to grip. You can also stand near a wall so you can support yourself against it. Once a safe location has been found, stand on one foot, hold the position, alternate between legs and repeat. Try to get 10 reps in (five for each leg) before taking a break.
  • Heel-to-toe walk: This one is fairly self-explanatory, but involves walking with your arms outstretched and steadily taking steps forward, placing one foot ahead of the other, heel-to-toe, so that your feet are aligned as best as you can get them. Try walking down a short hallway back and forth, or in a small, uncluttered area for 10 minutes. If you want to take it a step further, do the balance walk, which entails everything the heel-to-toe walk does, but adds the difficulty of holding your stepping leg in the air for a couple seconds before continuing.
  • Leg raises: No weights are needed for this exercise. All that's required is a sturdy chair or a place to lie down. When standing up, curl your lower leg up and down, not flexing too hard — this is a back leg raise and focuses on your calves. Now, lie down on a bed with your back down and hold your leg straight, lifting it up and down from flat to about a 45 degree angle (or as close as you can make it) without hurting yourself. This exercise works on your thigh muscles. Remember to inhale while lifting up, and exhale when lowering.

Strrrrrretch it out

As important as the actual exercise itself is, so is the stretching that you should be doing both before and after. Stretching is crucial in warming up your ligaments, tendons and joints so you don't injure yourself while exercising, or when cooling down afterward. If it's been a tough day already, and you're not up for a full workout, stretching can even serve as an substitute for exercise in a pinch—so long as you're getting some kind of activity in. Areas of your body to stretch include your:

  • Back: Standing up straight with your hands on your hips, gently bend backward, arcing your back. Then, slowly return to the upright position.
  • Ankles: Sitting down, hold your legs out straight and roll your ankles slowly, alternating from one side to the other.
  • Hips: In the same seated position, plant both feet on the ground. Bring one leg up into a folded, cross-over position and alternate this movement between both legs.

Use the CDC's fall prevention checklist

While not an exercise per se, making the most out of National Safety Month wouldn't be complete without consulting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's checklist for preventing falls at home. Some action items to cross off this list include:

  • Checking household floors for slipping hazards (loose rugs or wet floors due to a leak, for instance).
  • Checking for dark areas that could pose problems if walking during the night.
  • Having your doctor assess your medications and whether they may increase fall risk.
  • Getting exercise and stretching!

While falls may present a big risk, there is much within your control to prevent them; and staying active is near the top of that list. Try to build up your motivation and practice some of the exercises outlined above, and if you want to know more about what a retirement community can do to help decrease risk further, contact us today!