Comedians may get laughs from the "Help, I've fallen, and I can't get up" line, but for senior citizens, falling down is no joke. It is the leading cause of injury and death for Americans 65 and older. In a sobering statement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year 35 to 40 percent of older adults fall at least once, risking bumps, bruises, broken bones and worse. Falling can be caused by a variety of circumstances, but building body strength with exercises designed to improve muscle tone and balance can go a long way toward preventing this calamity.
- Before you start, check with your doctor.
- As you progress, try holding on with only one fingertip. When you feel comfortable with one fingertip, try the following exercises without holding on at all.
- Ask someone to watch you the first few times in case you lose your balance.
Side leg raises
Improves balance by strengthening muscles of the hips and thighs.
1. Stand straight, directly behind a table or chair, feet slightly apart. Hold table or chair for balance.
2. Keeping your back and both legs straight, slowly lift one leg 6 to 12 inches out to the side. Don't point your toes downward; keep them facing forward during this exercise.
3. Hold this position, then slowly lower leg. Repeat with other leg. Keep back and knees straight throughout the exercise.
4. Alternate legs until you repeat the exercise eight to 15 times with each leg.
5. Rest, then do another set of eight to 15 alternating repetitions.
Strengthens thigh and hip muscles.
1. Stand straight, holding onto a table or chair in front of you for balance.
2. Slowly lift and bend one knee toward your chest without bending your waist or hips.
3. Hold position for one second. Slowly lower leg all the way down. Pause.
4. Repeat with other leg. Alternate legs until you have done eight to 15 repetitions with each leg.
5. Rest, then do another set of eight to 15 alternating repetitions. Add ankle weights as you progress.
Strengthens the buttock and lower-back muscles.
1. Stand 12 to 18 inches from a table or chair, feet slightly apart.
2. Bend forward at the hips to about a 45-degree angle; hold onto a table or chair for balance.
3. Slowly lift one leg straight backward without bending your knee; don't point your toes or bend your upper body any farther forward.
4. Hold position for one second. Slowly lower your leg.
5. Repeat with other leg. Alternate legs until you have done eight to 15 repetitions with each leg.
6. Rest, then do another set of eight to 15 alternating repetitions. Add ankle weights as you progress.
Single-leg balance exercise
1. Stand near a table or chair to begin.
2. Start with feet hip-width apart, weight equally distributed on both legs, hands on your hips.
3. Lift your left leg off the floor and bend it back at the knee.
4. Hold position as long as you can maintaining good form, up to 30 seconds.
5. Return to starting position and repeat on other side. As your balance improves, increase the number of repetitions.
6. For variety, reach out with your foot as far as possible without touching it to the floor.