(BPT) - Falling is a common concern among seniors, particularly as a fall has the potential to be more devastating for an older adult than the small scrape or bruise many might expect. While Fall Prevention Awareness Month is in September, it’s always a good time to learn more about these very real risks and ways to reduce them. A simple step like joining a senior fitness program can significantly reduce the impact of falls or even prevent them entirely. Not only are these programs effective, but as members will tell you, they’re lots of fun, and you may already be eligible to participate. SilverSneakers, the nation’s leading fitness program for older adults, is available to more than 18 million Americans through select Medicare plans.
The gravity of falls
Falls have been a fact of life for each of us, ever since we took our first steps as infants. While often embarrassing and sometimes painful, as we get older, they may become more frequent with more serious consequences, including broken bones and hospitalization. More than one in three people aged 65 years or older falls each year, according to the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging. Falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide.
Many factors increase fall risk. Some may be obvious such as poor vision, unsupportive footwear and hazards in the home including stairs or surfaces that easily become slippery. But other factors may seem unrelated or change so slowly that we don’t notice the danger. These include difficulty hearing, single or combined medications that cause dizziness, and decreased lower body strength and ankle mobility.
Some of these issues are best addressed by a medical professional, but exercise can dramatically reduce the risk of falls and the consequences. By engaging in activities that improve balance and build strength, you can become less vulnerable to falls. Fortunately, senior fitness programs prioritize those very things.
Developing stronger seniors
While anyone can begin exercising at any time, it can be difficult to know where or how to start. Which activities are best? How do you know if you’re performing them correctly?
Fitness programs are a great solution because they offer a variety of ways to get active, but senior fitness programs offer the guidance that you need — the right activities at the right pace to maintain interest and prevent injury, where, when and how you want. As seniors, you have a unique set of physical and emotional needs, making activities that are offered in convenient community locations or from the comfort of home especially appealing. For older adults, the social component is often just as important and beneficial as the physical.
SilverSneakers offers members a network of up to 23,000 fitness locations across the nation as well as live online fitness classes and on-demand workouts that can be joined virtually. The program features classes and exercises that focus on improving balance and building the strength necessary to prevent falls, including yoga, bodyweight exercises, Pilates and more. Tai Chi has been shown to help with balance and flexibility, making it a popular option among seniors. Mild weight-bearing activities, such as walking or climbing stairs, also build strength and may even slow bone loss from osteoporosis.
“The activities a program like SilverSneakers offers are designed with one demographic in mind — seniors,” explained Maria Granzotti, Chief Medical Officer at Tivity Health. “As a result, they prioritize areas that become vulnerable with age, often without us even realizing it until something happens, like a fall. SilverSneakers instructors ensure these programs are appealing, accessible, safe and fun, increasing the likelihood members will participate and helping them to improve strength and balance, which decreases the risk of falls.”
SilverSneakers’ offerings target the unique needs of seniors, but they are also designed based on member feedback. The program regularly surveys its members to ensure it is offering members the activities they enjoy in the ways that work best for them. And if proof was ever needed that these are the activities seniors want, on Aug. 31, it was provided. In honor of its 30th Anniversary, SilverSneakers set a Guinness World Records™ title for the most viewers of a dance fitness live stream on Facebook with 3,075 viewers in attendance.
Finding the perfect senior fitness program
With the right Medicare Advantage plan, joining a senior fitness program is easy. SilverSneakers is offered at no additional cost to members and serves members in all 50 states from more than 70 health plans. And, with 30 years of experience serving the senior population and offering classes for every fitness level, it’s an excellent way to get fit, stay engaged, reduce falls and be healthy. Medicare Advantage members can visit silversneakers.com to determine eligibility. If you aren’t currently on an MA plan, the annual Medicare Enrollment Period between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7 is a perfect time to review plans and find one that includes SilverSneakers. Visit silversneakers.com to learn more.