As we become wiser and older, we get to enjoy so much in life. It’s great fun to travel, spend time with our children and grandchildren, and pursue hobbies. Unfortunately, getting older also comes with its drawbacks. One of the biggest concerns as we age is that we become more prone to falling. No matter how healthy we are or how great we may feel, our chances of falling significantly increase once we turn 65. And should we fall, we double our risk of falling again! Falls can cause serious injuries to wise adults, so it’s important to understand why we may fall in order to take precautions. Here are seven reasons why we are more prone to falls as we get older.
Sarcopenia is the term for age-related loss of muscle mass. Unfortunately, we start losing muscle mass once we reach the age of 30. As we slowly lose muscle mass, we become weaker. If we do not do regular strength training, we might lose up to 50% of our muscle mass by our 80s! This can lead to falls since our core and legs simply do not have the strength to keep us upright. Weak muscles also mean we cannot correct ourselves should we trip or lose our balance. Decreased strength also means our bones and joints are not as strong, which leads us to our next point. In particular, strengthening are legs, glutes, and core muscles is crucial for balance.
Since our bones are not as strong, our joints become stiffer. Our fascia (connective tissue “web” that links our muscles together) also becomes stiffer as we age. This combined with the lack of strength in our muscles leads to a lack of flexibility, especially in the hips, knees, and ankles. If we can’t move our bodies properly, we are much more likely to fall and cannot easily stop ourselves from stumbling. This lack of flexibility can also lead to more serious injuries should we fall, including breaking bones or pulling important tendons and ligaments. It is important to do dynamic mobility workouts as a daily warm-up as well as regular stretching and foam rolling after physical activities.
Our ability to know where our body is in space and how to move is called proprioception. Proprioception is a combination of our body’s nervous system working with our muscles. Having good proprioception is how we are able to run and swing a tennis racket or balance on one leg. Unfortunately, as we age, our proprioception naturally deteriorates. When this system deteriorates, it slows down our body’s reaction time, which means we cannot quickly course-correct once we start to lose our balance.
As we age, our vestibular system is more likely to deteriorate. This can happen naturally as we age or can be caused by common health conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and low blood pressure. Certain illnesses may also cause us to be dizzy or we can even contract an infection that inhibits the vestibular system. Being dizzy can lead to a fall if we become disoriented and have nothing to hold on to.
Medications to treat various illnesses or conditions can often cause us to fall. In fact, medication changes are one of the leading causes of falls in adults. (If you have ever tried a new medication that has an unwanted side effect, then you know how profoundly medications can affect your body!) Medications can cause our blood pressure or blood sugar to suddenly drop, which can lead to fainting or dizziness. Common medications that are related to falls in older adults include sedatives, antidepressants, benzodiazepines, neuroleptics, antipsychotics, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
As we age, our nervous system may become damaged. Almost half of the people who suffer from nerve damage are 65 or older. Some diseases, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or cancer can cause us to lose feeling in our feet and legs. Lower back pain can also lead to a loss of feeling in our legs and feet. We may also lose feeling in our lower body after sitting for too long or traveling long distances. When we can’t feel our feet or legs, then it much easier to fall!
As we age, our vision naturally degrades. How often do you need to reach for your readers now? While it can be an inconvenience to need glasses to read a menu or our phones, it can cause serious problems when we walk. If we cannot see a step, sidewalk, or other objects on the floor, then we are much more likely to fall. Poor vision can also affect our balance, so we may fall even if nothing has caused us to stumble.While aging does not mean that we cannot go on adventures or have fun, it does mean that we are at an increased risk for physical problems, especially falls. We may fall because of poor vision, lack of muscle mass, decreased flexibility, or poor proprioception. Medications, nerve damage, and dizziness may also cause us to fall. As a result, it’s important to stay active through exercise and hobbies, include strength training and mobility exercises in our workout routine, get our vision checked regularly, and always pay attention to any side effects from medication. With these precautions, we can help reduce the risk of falls and live a healthy, active life!
If you're looking to improve your balance and movement and help ward off falls, check out the Wysefit Balance Classes with Laura Burkhardt, Dynamic Mobility Workouts, and Strength Training Classes in Wysefit Mobile App!