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Keep Your Balance

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Recently a young friend of mine slipped on the ice and broke a bone in her foot. This winter has been particularly dangerous with much slippery ice on the streets and sidewalks. Slippery winter ice is dangerous for all of us, but older adults have to be concerned about falling year round.

Falling is the leading cause of injury among seniors, and is the ninth leading cause of death overall for people 65 and older. If an older adult breaks a hip, the average life span after the break is one year.

A recent review of more than 50 clinical trials studying the best ways to prevent falls was performed at the Drexel University School of Public Health. The review was designed to update fall prevention recommendations for physicians. The trials studied nutrition, exercise, vision correction, medication assessment, home hazard modification, and education and behavioral counseling.

The results of this in depth review showed that exercise and vitamin D supplements are the most effective primary care interventions to prevent falls. Exercise was associated with a 13% reduction in the risk of falling, while trials of vitamin D supplementation saw a 17% reduction in falls. None of the other interventions showed any significant fall prevention.

The Institute of Medicine, which sets recommended daily levels for nutrients, has set a standard of 600 IU of vitamin D daily for children and adults under age 71, while older adults should have 800 IU.

Although a variety of exercises were studied, most were aimed at improving gait, balance, strength and flexibility needed to do everyday activities. The Y, of course, offers many avenues for exercise with many cardio machines, strength training, and exercise classes for all ages, abilities, and interests. Specifically for older adults, the class, re-YOUTH-enate, directly targets exercises needed to help prevent falls.

Falling is a dangerous hazard for everyone, so be careful and learn from these studies. Take the simple steps of exercising regularly and make sure you are consuming sufficient vitamin D.