In the UK, falls are the most common cause of injury related deaths in people over the age of 75. This is why it is so important to keep an eye on the components of fitness, to try and reduce this horrible statistic.
Falls occur because of balance problems and muscular weakness. Poor vision and long-term health conditions such as heart disease, dementia, low blood pressure also cause a fall. Obliviously exercise will not help your vision, but it certainly will for the other conditions. Looking at low blood pressure, this is a condition that is often overlooked as high blood pressure often steals the limelight. Low blood pressure causes dizziness and lightheadedness, blurred vision, confusion and fainting, so can be instrumental in causing falls.
Throughout the day, blood pressure varies. It can go up or down depending on body position, breathing rhythm, stress levels, medications you take, exercise, caffeine intake and other foods and drink. Blood pressure is usually lowest at night and rises sharply in the morning.
We are all different and, in some people, low blood pressure is normal and causes no symptoms, but a sudden fall in blood pressure can be dangerous by causing dizziness and fainting as the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen due to lack of blood supply. The causes of low blood pressure vary but a common one is dehydration, so make sure you have at least 1.2 litres (6 glasses) a day, especially when exercising.
Low blood pressure is more common in older adults due to medications. Medications that cause low blood pressure are diuretics (water pills), beta blockers, Parkinson’s drugs, enlarged prostate drugs, antidepressants and drugs for erectile dysfunction.
The two things to look out for if you have low blood pressure to avoid falls are, standing up from a seated position and going to the toilet in the night. Both of these can cause postural hypotension. This is a sudden drop in blood pressure when you stand from a seated or lying position, worse at night due do your blood pressure naturally lowering as you sleep. The trick is to be mindful of this and don’t rush. Stand up slowly and wait a few seconds for the blood to flow around your body and into your brain. You can even try marching on the spot for a few seconds to help.
Muscle weakness as we age
Atrophy, unfortunately is a natural process of growing old. The older you get, the faster your muscles waste away, especially with underuse. From birth until your 30’s, muscles grow stronger. After that, you start to lose muscle mass and function. From the age of 40, you can lose muscle mass at a rate of 5% a decade. Even if you stay active it will still happen, so if you are not, it happens more. If you exercise and keep the muscles as strong as possible this will help. It will help reduce frailty and the possibility of falls and other damage.
The best form of exercise for this is strength training and as I said in A Better You in Later Life, the best piece of equipment for that is you. Strength training will help you maintain your balance, mobility and energy levels. Learn how to increase your strength by using the free MolyFit 28 day course.
John Molyneux, MolyFit Founder