According to the NHS, 1 in 3 adults over 65 will have at least one fall per year. But why?

Obviously, there are environmental causes of falling such as slippery or uneven floors or tripping over objects. However, there are also several material and anatomical factors that increase our risk as we get older.

Reasons that we become more prone to falling:
  1. Weak muscles
  2. Balance problems
  3. Health conditions that cause dizziness or loss of consciousness
  4. Poor eyesight makes it more difficult to see obstructing objects and judge depth
  5. Slower reflexes mean our body has less time to react and correct our position if we trip over a rolled-up rug for example. This makes the likelihood of the trip turning into a fall greater.
Why are my muscles weakening with age?

Muscle mass naturally decreases with age, making it hard to maintain physique you had in your 30s. Perhaps explaining why you see very few 70-year-old body builders. Changes to muscle tissue as we age means that muscles become less toned and less able to contract. This happens even with regular exercise but is exacerbated by inactivity. The University of Copenhagen conducted a study into inactivity and muscle strength. Finding that when older people had one leg immobilized for two week they lost a fourth of their muscle strength. Once lost, it is possible to regain the muscle, but it will take 3 times the amount of time it took to lose it.

Why does balance deteriorate with age?

Interestingly, our ears are largely responsible for our balance. You may have heard of people with ear problems such as labyrinthitis struggling with their balance or experiencing vertigo. The vestibular system within our inner ear sends messages to the brain letting it know when we need to correct our balance. However, as we age the vestibular system becomes less effective and slower to send these messages. Consequently, our body becomes slower to correct itself when it is off balance and at risk of falling.

Another reason is that our core muscles may not be as strong. Weak core muscles make it more difficult to correct ourselves. For example, when you were younger you may have found it a lot easier to stand on one leg than you do now. While it is also likely connected to your vestibular system, it could be because it requires your stomach and leg muscles to work together to hold you in position.

A study by the Medical Research Council discovered that the simple test of balancing on one leg to give an interesting insight into life expectancy.

Take the test

Test 1: close your eyes and see how long you can stand on one leg for.

If you were able to hold the position for 10 seconds or more, you’re in luck. The results, published in the Independent, showed that men and women who were able to hold the position for less than two seconds were three times more likely to die before the age of 66 than those who could hold it for 10 seconds or more.

Test 2: Sit down and stand up as many times as you can in 60 seconds.

The findings are based on a 53 year old taking the test, but if you can do this 37 times (for men) or 35 times (for women) in 60 seconds, you are highly likely to still be healthy in 13 years’ time.

How can I reduce my risk of falling?

Fortunately, balance and muscle weakness is something that we can work on and build up through exercise. One You Cheshire East’s Stand Strong programme is designed to reduce your risk of falling through strength and balance training. The 12-week programme has been specifically devised for those aged 65+ and consists of exercises for balance, muscle strength and posture. You can sign up to the programme for free on our website.

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