Preventing Falls With Exercise
How Exercise Classes Improve Strength and Balance
How can I find a class an older adult will like?
Barring a doctor's restrictions, an exercise class can be a great way to improve an older adult's health. A good exercise class will help build her strength and flexibility and improve her balance so she's less inclined to fall.
Key to getting her started is finding the right class. Older people worry that they'll end up in a class of 20-year-olds jumping around in spandex, according to findings by a study of participants in a fall prevention program designed by the Washington State Department of Health. Researchers also found that older adults, like any age group, want to go to an exercise class that's fun.
Researchers also learned that older folks are more inclined to return to a class if they feel confident that the instructor knows how to work with their age group. "They have to hear from the instructor that they can work at their own pace and be told that if something hurts, don't do it," says Sally York, MN, RNC, the interim director of the Northwest Orthopedic Institute, one of the study sites in Tacoma, Washington.
York and her colleagues also found that older adults, much like their children, can be competitive. "They wouldn't go back to a class after taking a break for a health condition, because they were embarrassed that they couldn't keep up with the class," says York. This is a good reason your friend or relative should look for a class where instructors are trained to encourage participants to return and not feel disheartened that they're not caught up. Equally important, says York, those who've missed exercise classes need to start out slowly and build up their strength again.
How can I find a class that will be safe for an older adult?
The best bet is to look for classes offered by hospitals with rehabilitation centers. Or search out facilities affiliated with your area's department of public health, agency on aging, or organizations like the Arthritis Foundation. One instructor to 20 students is an ideal ratio, according to the Arthritis Foundation, unless there are assistants to help students.
Prior to the start of class, the instructor should ask about each student's health history and should be able to modify exercises to accommodate participants' needs, according to Lisa Cirill, the acting chief for the California Center for Physical Activity, located in Sacramento, California. "You should find out from the instructor if she's trained specifically to work with an older population," says Cirill, who was an investigator on a five-year study of fall prevention programs in California that serve 7,000 older adults. Cirill believes that once you've found the right class, you'll see improvements. "We had classes with very frail older adults who couldn't go to the restroom without an attendant," she explains, and they no longer needed help. In fact, the more weak and out of shape someone is, says Cirill, "The quicker his or her response to exercise."