Staying Fit for A Long and Healthy Life
Winter is here, and along with it comes a whole lot of changes in our bodies. During Winter, our bodies go through automatic physiological changes to adjust to the colder climate. These thermoregulation systems are what keep us in a homeostatic state, functioning and avoiding sickness. As we age these bodily functions slow down, making it harder for us to fend off some of the sickness and aches, which are present in these months. This results in an increase in the number of falls during the winter months, particularly for individuals over the age of 65 years old, where approximately 30% of adults over this age experience at least one fall per year.
Not only is this number alarming, but Australia’s ageing population means this is set to grow, so we need an action plan! Fall risks for the elderly can be divided into two main categories:
Health Based Risks – These are related to the physiological functions of the body slowing down, so problems with balance, vision, body weakness, the onset of chronic illnesses, and medication side-effects all can have a considerable effect on your ability to stand up-right. These body weaknesses include a decrease in bone density and strength, and slower reaction times, which can be trained with elderly clients as a means to avoid such falls. Secondly, are environmental risks which are less likely to be directly controlled by the individual, and are more related to trip hazards in the home or outside, risky footwear or improper fitting or use of assistance device.
Health risk prevention includes physical exercise, specifically balance training. To assess the level of risk an elderly person is currently at The Timed Up and Go Test, gives great feedback in relation to global steadiness, measuring the time taken for the person to rise from a chair, walk three metres (with assisted device if needed), turn, return to the chair and sit. On average, taking 12 or more seconds to complete the test is an indicator of impaired functioning resulting in an increase in fall risk. This is a broad look at results, and will naturally vary from person to person, particularly with different assistance devices, but it is a great starting point and will pinpoint the specific areas that need to be worked on.
Multiple studies have shown the extensive benefits there is too elderly individuals training. Ranging from improving overall immune function and therefore, prevention of common diseases, to strengthening bones and increasing bone density. Exercise routines that incorporate swimming, yoga, pilates, walking, and resistance training, paired with a healthy diet are best for strengthening the body, mind, and cognitive functioning which are all essential to avoid falls.
Environmental Risks – These are things like trip hazards or the type of shoes prescribed. Trip hazards often come back to health risks, such as diminishing eyesight in elderly clients, so making sure we have our eyesight checked every six months, plus getting properly prescribed glasses. Planning smart around the home also helps - putting things in easily accessible areas, wearing clothes that are not trip hazards, and increasing the amount of light in the house. Lastly, check your shoes! Slipping can also be caused by unsafe footwear such as loose slippers or shoes with narrow heels – a visit to the podiatrist may be helpful. Choose comfortable, broad, firm-fitted shoes with a low, broad heel and soles that grip, and avoid walking in slippers or socks. The Australian Podiatry Association can provide names of a podiatrist in your area.
With 65 becoming the new 40, we need to do all we can to stay fit and healthy, including making sure we do everything possible to avoid falls and slips.