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Exercising to reduce your risk of falling

Everyone is at risk for falls, no matter what your age is. Falls can happen at home, in the community, or while you are walking or doing other activities. The best activities to reduce falls include those that improve muscle strength in the legs and improve balance, posture, and stamina. Muscles tend to get weaker and balance becomes harder if we don’t continue to remain active.

Below is an excerpt from Vancouver Coastal Health’s “Prevent falls: Stay on your feet!” brochure on how to improve muscle strength and balance:

Check your leg strength:

  • Can you get out of a chair safely without using your arms?
  • Can you do it three times in a row?

Check your balance:

  • For safety, try this test while standing near the kitchen counter. Can you safely stand on one leg for 5-12 seconds without holding on to anything or anyone?

What you can do:

  • Get up from a chair three times in a row, without using your arms, whenever you can.
  • Go up and down stairs to keep your legs strong. Make sure you use the hand rail.
  • Walk as much as you can. If you become tired quickly or feel unsteady, a four-wheeled walker with a seat and a basket is a great idea. Have a professional help you buy the right one.
  • Bend and straighten your legs when you are watching TV. Add small weights to your ankles.
  • Mark out a walking path in your house if the weather is bad. Imagine you are walking to Hawaii.
  • Call your community centre, seniors centre, or church to find out what activity programs are offered.
  • Do a few exercises when you make yourself a cup of tea or get a glass of water.
  • See the Strength and Balance Exercises on the next page.
  • Make your activities fun.

Exercises

These simple exercises can help improve your strength and balance. Only do the exercises you feel safe and comfortable doing. It may be safer and easier to do just a couple of exercises at a time. If you have increased pain or a significant increase in shortness of breath, stop exercising immediately. Stand up straight. Hold onto the edge of the kitchen counter if you need to for safety. As this gets easier, try to hold on less.

Infographic showing exercises you can do at your desk

Here are some of the recommended physical activity programs, often found at your local community center:

  • Balance training, e.g., Tai Chi
  • Strength training – using weights or resistance
  • Walking
  • Water fitness
  • Dancing

Remember: Strength and balance can reduce your risk of falling by 50%.

Speak with your doctor or health care provider about any medical condition which may affect your ability to do these exercises.

Infographic showing exercises you can do at your desk

Please click here to read the full brochure or visit Vancouver Coastal Health Fall and Injury Prevention online at www.fallprevention.vch.ca.

The power of a walk in Indigenous communities

According to Leanne Simpson, a scholar and storyteller from the Alderville First Nation on Rice Lake, about 150 kilometres northeast of Toronto, Indigenous communities are filled with tales of people who walked great distances to bring about some kind of change.

Walking is a way to socialize, strengthen family bonds and engage in diplomacy. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Peter Kulchyski, a native studies professor at the University of Manitoba, says, “These walks tie into non-violent, passive civil disobedience. They can be traced back to Gandhi.”

Simpson added that the walks can forge links that at times cross cultural boundaries, offering “an opportunity for all Canadians to join in and walk alongside. This type of relationship isn’t mediated by the mainstream press or politics. And that’s one of the ultimate goals: connection.”

Traditionally, walking is a mode of transportation – it’s accessible, you don’t need a lot of equipment, you can do it throughout the year, and you don’t have to cover great distances. Research studies show that walking boosts endorphins and improves balance. Participants of these long walks have even vowed to reduce their alcohol consumption and be more active.

Whether you are walking out of necessity or for a cause, we have one thing to say: Happy National Indigenous Peoples Day!

As little as 4,500 steps a day can have health benefits for older women

A new study at Harvard University concludes that for older women, walking as few as 4,500 steps a day reduced mortality compared with those who took only 2,700 steps a day.

Any movement, whether or not it counts as exercise, may help to extend people’s lives. People who are active have lower incidences of heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes and usually live longer than people who are sedentary. However, confusion remains about how much exercise we need and how intense it should be. Past research suggests meeting or even exceeding a 10,000-step-a-day goal. Mobile applications and fitness trackers have 10,000-step-a-day exercise goals built into them. The Canadian Physical Activity Guideline for adults 18-64 years is 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.

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In an interview with New York Times, I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard University, who led the study, said: “People may not intuitively grasp what 150 minutes a week of exercise means in practical terms. Step counts are simpler, more concrete and convenient measure of physical activity. We can understand the concept of a step and how to add them up.”

Dr. Lee and her team looked at data from the Women’s Health Study, which has been tracking the health and habits of older women for decades. In that study, thousands of older women worn sophisticated activity monitor for a week. The monitors tracked the steps each woman took per minute throughout the day (but without showing any readouts of the totals, so the women would not know or respond to the counts).

Dr. Lee and her team gathered the step-count and health data from almost 17,000 of the participants, most of them in their 70s, and none of whom reported poor health. They also checked death records for the subsequent four to five years and than compared step counts and mortality. The team found that the women who had moved the least, taking only about 2,700 steps a day, were the most likely to have died during the follow-up period. Women who moved more often had considerably less risk of premature death, up to 7,500 steps a day. The threshold for reducing the risk of premature death was about 4,500 steps a day. Thos who reached 4,500 steps were 40 per cent less likely to have died during the follow-up period.

In terms of intensity, majority of the women strolled, rather than rushed; only a few walked intensively and for exercise. In this study, only the number of steps per day was associated with mortality, not the speed with which the women accumulated them.

This study looked at older women and mortality – further research is required to see if the findings apply to men or younger people. Dr. Lee concluded: “Even so, the findings suggest that step counts can be a useful way to measure exercise and that taking more steps is better than taking fewer.”