HELP LINE: To prevent falls, keep moving your body

THE INSIGHTFUL, DISCERNING and piercingly intelligent among us, defined by the fact that they’ve been following this column for more years than they care to remember, will immediately recognize that I’ve gone on about falls before.

Yes, as in “falling over.”

Typically, I’ve employed a multitude of scare tactics, such as how many of us will be killed by falls (true) or how many of us will end up in nursing homes because of falls (true) or any other terrifying statistic that I could lay my hands on, in the hope that they might motivate more of us to move.

Yes: Move.

My thing about falls is that most of them are eminently preventable.

We can actually do things to prevent them, without breaking the bank or becoming hopelessly enmeshed with health insurance.

You know: Move this extension cord, turn on that light, understand how our meds interact, wear shoes with some traction, blah blah blah. It’s all true.

But another huge piece of that whole puzzle is that we have to actually move.

Think about it: Does it seem likely that we’ll do better on our feet if we spend most of our time on our … bums?

No. See?

We didn’t need three degrees to figure that out.

I have an old friend/colleague (well, she’s not that old) by the name of Barb Paschal.

Paschal’s professional history includes 33 years as a physical therapist in rehab facilities and home health agencies, plus at least 15 years as a community educator, and she knows more than a bit about moving, balance and not falling over.

When Paschal asked me to write a column encouraging folks to move, I had a (characteristically) better idea: You write one.

Here it is:

“Your Health Bank Account:

“Want a great deal? Invest 1.6 percent of your day (30 minutes) and get 100 percent return.

“Benefits? Here are just a few: More memory, strength, flexibility, energy, stamina, better balance, stronger immune system, faster healing, better blood pressure and less pain. Your joint health improves with movement and every system and part of your body depends on the blood flow that occurs with healthy effective exercise. Obesity has a major negative effect on our joints and exercise can help you control your weight better.

“The stronger your muscles become you can experience an easier ability to get in and out of a chair or car. The stronger and more balanced you become you should be able to get off the floor without help; consequently, saving your family and the fire district’s EMTs from having to come to your rescue.

“Positive results can be noticeable in as little as 30 days, if you exercise effectively every day.

“Fact: Balance and muscle strength can be improved regardless of your age.

“Here are some tips on how to learn an effective and challenging program that will build the balance in your Health Bank Account.

• In your home: Sing and/or play fun music and solo dance moving your arms and legs in all directions side to side, forward and back for 20 to 30 minutes. Try to do this without stopping.

“This is possible even with a cane, walker, braces, etc.

“Perhaps holding onto or skimming your hands along the kitchen counter will allow you to feel that you have more control, safer steps and more freedom of movement.

“As you improve, rely less on the counter and eventually no holding or skimming, if at all possible, for you.

• At the gym/senior center: Go to one of the many classes available throughout the area at senior centers, fitness gyms, YMCAs, etc.

“Attend at least three times per week and then do the same exercises at home four times per week on your own.

• With a trainer: Hire a personal trainer at one of the fitness centers to evaluate your initial level of exercise and to give you a program.

“Join the gym, meet friends, and exercise in warm dry rooms.

“Are you aware that most Medicare supplements pay 50 percent to 100 percent of gym membership fees?

• In physical therapy: Ask your physician for a physical therapy referral to be evaluated and learn a daily, individualized program.

“Continue program daily after discharge from P.T.

“As we age, without a daily exercise program, we are increasingly at risk of: falling, losing our independent way of life and our ability to live it in our own homes.

“I have seen people of all ages and disabilities improve with determination.

“You are no doubt just as brave and tenacious. Start growing your Health Bank Account today.

“You’ll reap the rewards of your deposits!”

I think Paschal did a pretty good job. But that’s not the point, is it?

For reasons that will be obvious to most of you, I detest those commercials that spotlight, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

One of the reasons I detest them is that I’ve actually seen it happen.

The lucky ones can get to a phone and call the EMTs to come help them get up.

Then, they have to call again the next day … and again … and again.

I’ll pass on that.

I’d rather enjoy myself dancing blissfully in the living room.

And, yes: My dance card is full.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].

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