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Seniors, test your fitness

Remember the tune, "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again?"

I recall singing that to my daughter when she was a toddler and ran too fast. She would inevitably fall down, and I'd use the song to get her walking again.

Sadly for older adults like you and me, it doesn't work that way. When we fall down, picking yourself up can be impossible. Falls often end in breaking a hip or even a head injury, although there are a lot of other body parts that can fracture too.

Whatever breaks, there's pain, immobility, hospitalization, maybe even surgery, and long weeks in an in-residence rehab setting. It means starting all over again. If you're lucky.

For older adults (65 and up), falls are the leading cause of injury death. It happens when we move too quickly — to answer a ringing telephone or to head for the bathroom. We trip over a scatter rug, the dog's bone, maybe even the actual dog.

Research finds that falls are more likely to happen to older adults who are not engaged in a physical activity of some kind. This is an avoidable health problem. My idea of the moment is to partner with the YMCA in Ashland, Oregon Health Sciences University at SOU (three amazing nursing students, specifically) and, of course, Oregon State University Extension to host a special kind of interactive symposium focused on preventing falls.

At this event, we'll hear the newest research on fall prevention and the important role of physical activity. There will be tai chi demonstrations as well as mini-presentations on ways to improve strength and balance.

Then — this may be the best part — we will have the opportunity to go through "senior fitness testing," seven interactive stations that assess balance, flexibility and strength, and each of us will receive a personalized profile indicating how we rank nationally against older adults of our age and gender.

We'll also be coached on developing our own personal action plan that focuses on improving our fitness profile. And there will be periodic telephone calls from the nursing students and volunteers on how we are each doing. In the spring, we will all be invited back for reassessment (and a celebration of successes).

As illustration, let's say that I am assessed at station No. 3 on my flexibility and whether I can reach my arms behind my back (one arm stretched over one shoulder, the other arm stretched behind my back, fingers touching). Let's say I'm found to be under-performing dramatically against national norms. I want to change that — so I develop an action plan that may involve specific stretching exercises or water aerobics. I come back in the spring having followed that action plan and I am so supple and flexible I almost scare myself.

This "Don't Fall for Me" forum is scheduled from 12:30 to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 28, at the Ashland Y. Registration is limited to 40 people. You have to be 65 or older to register. Do so by calling 541-482-9622. There's no cost. This is a good thing. Fall for it.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.