Fighting Fit and Fighting Falls in Later Years
At 87 years old Jean David is almost as fleet-footed around the table tennis table as she was when she was a girl, playing her friends at the local youth club.
A later-life fitness enthusiast Jean might easily be the poster ‘girl’ for the latest Public Health Wales and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy’s Get Up and Go initiative – a campaign encouraging older people to help cut their risk of falls by moving more and by improving their balance, agility and strength.
A third of all people aged over 65 fall each year, with higher rates among those over 75, but falling does not have to be an inevitable part of growing older.
Jean lives in Swansea Marina and she can be found at the LC leisure centre three times a week enjoying their LC Gold classes – which are specially tailored for the over 50’s. She enjoys instructor-led movement classes as well as at tennis matches, badminton and her beloved table tennis. She says: “I used to play table tennis as girl at the local youth club. Now I challenge my teenage grandchildren at it.
“It is so important to stay as active as you possibly can for as long as you can because it makes such a difference to every part of your life and it can protect you from health problems.
“I know people who arrived at their retirement years and have gone into their shell and stayed in the house. It isn't a healthy way of living and it is something I decided I just wouldn’t do.
“I worked in the care sector for many years and I loved my job. I retired 22 years ago and I know it can be difficult to find a structure to your life after you retire, but going to the LC each week has changed my life.”
The focus upon building strength, co-ordination and muscle tone at Jean’s LC sessions are the ideal recipe for fall prevention, with strength and balance being key fall preventers.
Falls are major cause of disability in older people, and of course they can prove fatal too. Falls are the most common cause of injury-related death in the over 75s across the UK. Major falls which lead to hospital admission cost the NHS around £5,000 each time.
Jean continues: Exercise can be effective therapy for any number of health issues. I have lymphedema – which is a swelling caused by excess fluid in the arms or legs - and my doctor was very pleased that I was doing so much regular exercise because it is therapeutic.
Fitness instructor Candice Herbert-Rees from the LC says: “I have seen a number of clients during my time as a fitness instructor who have suffered falls and it can really set them back. It isn’t just the physical impact of injury, which can involve a longer recovery time in older people, but it is the lasting impact it can have upon a person’s confidence in their body function too. That can prompt older people to become more isolated so it really is a serious issue.
“I know Public Health Wales have published useful guidelines for exercise for older people at risk of falls and the activities can include anything from tea dancing to Nordic walking and Zumba – depending upon an individual’s abilities and risk factors.
“It is so pleasing to see the older generation really taking their fitness seriously and taking charge of it. There is so much professional help and support out there for older people who want to stay active and since people are living longer it is vital that we all take care of our bodies as much as we are able to.”
Of course, fitness is only one reason to exercise regularly in a group. Jean says: “I have made so many good friends at the LC and we socialise together a lot, so if miss a class people notice. They will call in on me to make sure I am alright – like many older people I live alone so it is comforting me for and for my family to know people are looking out for me. I am fit and I’m confident on my feet but if I were to suffer a fall or an accident someone would be there.”