The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that falls account for more than 18,000 deaths and 450,000 hospitalizations among people over the age of 65 each year. But many of these falls can be attributed to a decline in balance, which is a skill involving several body processes, including the nervous system, motor and movement functions.
Dr. David Thurman, a neurologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The New York Times that evidence indicates that "strength and balance training can reduce the rate of falls by up to about 50 percent." The Department of Health and Human Services, in response, added a recommendation to its 2008 national physical activity guidelines to advise older adults to incorporate exercises (into an overall physical activity program) that maintain or improve balance if they are at risk of falling.
There are no specific recommendations for how often, what duration, or even what exercises are of most benefit for improving balance in older adults, so they're often integrated into a larger group of exercises known as functional fitness exercises.
Working out under the direction of a personal trainer isn't necessary, according to exercise scientist Michael Rogers of Wichita State University. There are definite benefits to having the supervision of a professional, including safety and easy access to specialized balance training toys (balance boards, balls, and the like), but Rogers tells The New York Times that balance training can be accomplished anytime and anyplace. He recommends simple activities like standing with your feet closer together while brushing your teeth, or standing with one foot placed in front of the other.
Dr. Thurman says the benefits of balance training can become evident very quickly, because the nervous system still has the ability to regenerate as we age. It's even possible to develop new skills that can help seniors handle activities of daily living. Balance training can also build confidence and enable seniors to experience the advantages of active living.
Read The New York Times article, "Staying on Balance, With the Help of Exercises."
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