Exercise program for seniors improves their balance

Researchers in Montreal find seniors who enroll in a fall prevention exercise program improve their sense of balance.

An exercise program for seniors in Montreal is helping them keep steady on their feet.

Many seniors say their biggest concerns is a fear of falling. The latest statistics from Montreal Public Health suggest that may be justified: falls account for 11,000 hospital admissions each year among seniors.

To prevent falls, the department launched a program called Stand Up that puts seniors through a series of exercises designed to improve their balance and reduce falls.

The exercises stimulate the inner ear process that controls equilibrium in standing and walking.

"Usually we look for people who have fallen in the past year or who have serious balance issues," said Annette Vezina, an exercise physiologist at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors. "They don't get out as much in winter because they're afraid of falling."

Most of the participants haven't followed any other exercise program because they were too afraid of falling. Now they can sway, reach and pick themselves up with more confidence.

Judith Tritt, 83, said she was afraid of getting off the curb before she enrolled in the program. In week four of the 12-week session, she and her classmates are already showing signs of improvement.

"Oh yes, I've been able to walk home from here, that's quite a walk," said Tritt.

Rolling a tennis ball underfoot is one of the exercises designed to help seniors get a sense of bumps on the ground and staying vertical.

Another challenge is to stand on one foot as long as possible.

Researchers compared seniors who took part in Stand Up to a control group who didn't. The control group managed an average of 2.4 seconds, compared to twice as long among participants, 5.3 seconds.

The next phase of the research will see whether better balance reduces the number of falls.