Back On Track Health: Staying upright!

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By Warren Heggarty

Everyone is at risk of falling. In fact, falling can be fun (if done properly) and is built into a lot of sports such as Gymnastics, Rugby Union and Rugby League. Unfortunately, if you do not have good general fitness, falling can be dangerous. This is especially true for older people, people with serious medical conditions, people who take medicine that affects their balance, and people who have no regular exercise. 

What causes balance problems?

The causes are not usually very dramatic. Sometimes just sitting down for a long time can make you wonky when you stand up. That’s usually easily fixed. People who are very anxious can feel dizzy because of overbreathing (as in a panic attack). General unfitness and lack of physical activity is a common problem. Other causes include taking some medications, arthritis, cardiovascular problems (like hypotension), neuropathy (nerve problems), eye problems, inner ear problems and long term illnesses of the central nervous system (American Geriatrics Society).

What can I do about it?

You can find a tip sheet on preventing falls around the house below. Two of the most common hazards is storing stuff on the floor and having loose rugs in walkways. 

www.healthinaging.org/files/documents/tipsheets/falls_prevention.pdf

Regular exercise can help you to keep your balance and prevent falls, according to research presented by Assoc Prof Anne Tiedemann of Sydney University. For best results, the exercise should: 

1. Provide you with a moderate or high challenge to your balance

2. Take a sufficient amount of time, say more than three hours per week. 

3. Be regular and ongoing.

What sort of exercises can I do?

Prof Tiedemann says that exercises which help prevent falls are not just for old people or people at high risk from falls. Everybody can benefit. The exercises can be undertaken in a group setting or at home. The NSW government website “Active and Healthy” has an illustrated guide to home balance exercise which you can see online here:

www.activeandhealthy.nsw.gov.au/staying-active/exercise-at-home/

To give you a couple of examples, there is “heel to toe walking,” which can help you keep balance when walking through a narrow space. Another is “knee raises”, which helps you going up stairs or getting on and off buses (I really need to do that one myself!). Have a look for yourself, or ask your GP or support worker. (NSW Health )

If you prefer to do it in a group, Active and Healthy has a location finder which helps you find exercise venues near you.

Strength training and brisk walking can complement balance training however, as always, people in poor shape or with certain medical conditions should clear it with their doctor before starting strenuous exercise (Tiedemann).

What can I do to prevent falls in the community

It is always a good idea to encourage one another to do get regular exercise and to keep it ongoing. Where preventing falls is concerned, this is especially true of middle aged or older people. 

Support staff can look for opportunities to promote exercise as a part of regular activities. They can also help raise awareness of the problem of falls among people who have a high risk (Tiedemann).

References

American Geriatrics Society. (n.d.). Balance Problems. Retrieved from Health in Ageing: http://www.healthinaging.org/aging-and-health-a-to-z/topic:balance-problems/info:causes-and-symptoms/

NSW Health . (n.d.). Exercise at home. Retrieved from Active and Healthy : https://www.activeandhealthy.nsw.gov.au/staying-active/exercise-at-home/

Tiedemann, A. (n.d.). Exercise for falls prevention. Retrieved from NSW Health Falls Prevention Program: http://fallsnetwork.neura.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Tiedemann_ruralfallsforumKiama_Slides-for-website.pdf

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