As we age, one of our biggest concerns is being able to remain at home and independent. Following are tips for staying strong and physically independent.
Plan ahead. Don’t wait until you are struggling with mobility to take action. At regular check-ups, tell your doctor about any concerns with strength, balance or mobility. He/she may recommend a physical therapy or fitness evaluation to correct impairment. It’s important to learn proper exercise techniques to prevent injury.
Be Flexible. With aging comes an inevitable loss of muscle flexibility and strength, which can throw off balance. To gain flexibility and minimize falls, stretch the calf, thigh and chest muscles daily. Each stretch should be done 3-4 times and held for 60 seconds. Always stretch when you’re warm; such as after a walk, or a hot shower.
Stay Strong. We lose 40-50% of muscle mass from ages 25 – 80. With proper exercise and no underlying disease, you can gain strength at any age. It’s key to know exactly which muscles to target, and the most effective exercises to strengthen those muscles. Contact your physical therapist or physician to identify which muscles need to be strengthened to meet your goals of independent living, and to prescribe the best exercises for you.
Be Balanced. Good balance is essential to remaining independent and avoiding falls. Balance depends on 3 systems; each system should be checked at your annual exam.
1) Ears: Inner ear problems can lead to positional vertigo or inability to sense changes in head position.
2) Eyes: Visualization of the horizon helps maintain a straight upright position. Be sure to get regular eye exams, wear your glasses as prescribed and address cataracts, glaucoma or macular degeneration to minimize balance difficulties.
3) Extremities: Joint receptors in the legs notify the brain about the type of walking surface and help us adapt to changes in surface. That sense can be retrained to some extent; however, chronic conditions such as diabetes, neuropathy or post chemotherapy nerve damage may limit improvement. Instead, you may have to train your body to recognize and adapt to walking surface changes through exercise and balance training activities.
Reduce Risks. Make sure your home is set up to minimize risks of falling.
- Remove all throw rugs.
- Wear rubber soled shoes on tile or linoleum.
- Make sure there is at least one railing on all stairs, even one or two steps into the home.
- Install grab bars at shower/tub and comfort height toilet to limit hip/knee strain.
- A red night light will help define a clear path at night, without disturbing your sleep.
Remember, it is easier to maintain than regain. Benjamin Franklin said it best: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Ann Dennison, owner of Advanced Physical Therapy and Fitness, is a doctor of physical therapy with more than 20 years experience.
102 West Allen Street, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055 | 717-790-9994