If you’re older and worried about taking a bad fall, there’s just one exercise for fall prevention you can do anywhere, says Barbara Bergin, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at and co-founder of Texas Orthopedics, Sports & Rehabilitation Associates.
Dr. Bergin has 30+ years’ experience performing total knee and hip replacements, and doesn’t believe in fancy or pricey gizmos to help restore age-related loss of balance or retain good balance.
The one exercise that she endorses is so simple you can do it in church and on an airplane.
When an older person takes a fall, a fractured hip is often the outcome. Within 12 months of hip replacement surgery for a broken hip, 20% to 30% of patients over 65 are dead.
This doesn’t have to happen to you.
“It is incorrect to assume, as many do, that the hip breaks first, and then you fall,” says Dr. Bergin.
“Fragility fractures of the hip are due to a fall. So, don’t fall.
“There are too many fall prevention exercise strategies to list, and a lot depends on the condition and age of the patient.
“If you are otherwise healthy and have no weight-bearing joint problems, in my opinion, the best exercise is to do single-leg standing exercises.
“I do them every day and have been for years. They improve your balance and therefore lessen your likelihood of falling.
“Just stand on one leg! I do it when I’m waiting for the microwave, while I’m brushing my teeth or standing at my desk at work.”
What if you can’t stand on one leg?
Dr. Bergin explains, “So start out by standing by your kitchen counter.
“Rest your hand on the counter and lift one leg.” Keep your hand on the countertop and, over time, work on maintaining the one-leg stand for one minute each leg.
Once you can do this for one minute, you’re ready to eliminate the countertop and do this exercise at will.
“You honestly can’t do this exercise too much, unless you’ve got an injury or something that causes you pain or weakness when you try it,” says Dr. Bergin.
For those of you with poor balance, take baby steps first. This includes initially having a hand on the countertop.
Don’t cling or clutch at the edge of the counter. Just keep your palm on its surface as your body, over time, develops better balance on that one leg.
“Start lifting your hand off the countertop,” says Dr. Bergin, “leaving it lifted off for longer and longer periods until you can finally stand on one leg, independent of the countertop.”
Eventually you’ll be able to do this when standing in line, while filling your car with gas or anywhere else where there’s enough room to stand!
What if standing on one leg for a minute gets really easy?
Below are images depicting how you can make this fall prevention exercise more challenging.
For those who have mobility impairment that prevents pursuing this fall prevention exercise, Dr. Bergin says to “use walking aids, turn on lights at night. Get rid of rugs with turned up, tattered ends or tape them down.
“Pick things up. Free up your walking pathway through the house. Have grab bars in the bathroom and shower.
“Pets are potentially dangerous for the elderly. They cause many tens of thousands of injuries every year. I tell my patients to train pets to stay out from underfoot.”
For many more ways that older people can prevent a hip-shattering fall, here are Dr. Bergin’s recommendations.
Dr. Bergin is a general orthopedist, surgically and conservatively treating all manner of bone and joint conditions. She enjoys educating patients so they can emerge stronger than they were before their orthopedic injury or surgery.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.