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Optimistic results in senior fall study

senior exerciseEarlier this year, we wrote about a three-month study to prevent falls among senior citizens in our community. Read the background on that study here.

Studies have shown that exercise can help improve memory for seniors, as well as build muscle and bone mass. At Weiss, experts set out to learn whether regular exercise could help prevent falls.

“Fall prevention in older adults is so important,” says Caren Perlmuter, vice president of development for senior services. More than one-third of adults over age 65 fall annually, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Of those one-third, 10 percent sustain a major injury such as a fracture or brain injury. Balance problems and weakness may also contribute to mental and emotional issues.

The Weiss study began when Dr. Dheeraj Mahajan, geriatrics medical director, and Perlmuter wanted to help older adults build muscle to aid balance and prevent falling. They called on exercise physiologist Paul Radzki to run the study, using exercise to increase seniors’ strength and balance. In October, they enrolled 50 people between the ages of 60 and 80. Most of the participants were female.

For the study, Radzki led exercise classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays for three months. He focused on strength building during the hour-long sessions, using chairs, steps and resistance bands.

Irena Freyer was one of the women who joined the study, with concerns over an aching knee, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. “I wanted to stop taking my medications, but dieting wasn’t enough. So I wanted to try exercise,” she says.

Freyer split her weekly fitness activities by working out in the gym, attending tai chi class and participating in Radzki’s exercise class.

At the beginning of each month, Radzki spent a day measuring participants’ progress. He recorded blood pressure, glucose level, heart rate and timed each participant during what physical therapists call a “Get Up and Go Test.” The participant would begin by sitting in a chair, then get up, walk a total of eight feet and sit back down in the chair.

“That was the great thing we found. Their test times were decreasing,” Radzki says. He attributed the results to participants’ increased strength.

Following the test, they underwent assessments for balance, body mass index and basic metabolic rate. Those results were not as encouraging. While some individuals saw improvements, overall everything from blood pressure to BMI remained the same.

Freyer lost weight throughout the study and early on saw a decline in her blood pressure and cholesterol. As the study progressed, though, her numbers went back up. She suspects certain combinations of food were driving up her levels.

Radzki says that with time, participants’ results in all areas would improve. For now, though, “Doing strengthening exercises for 45 minutes twice a week is not enough to get yourself into shape. You have to do it at least two more times a week on your own to see a bigger difference in blood pressure and everything else.”

The participants appreciate his guidance. “I don’t like him, I love him,” Freyer stresses. “He’s an excellent teacher, very loving.”

Overall, Radzki is pleased with the results. He collected his final data in December and spent January analyzing the results. Though the numbers only showed significant improvement in the Get Up and Go Test, he says anecdotal evidence was encouraging.

“People said it made a big difference in their lives. They felt better, stronger,” Radzki says, estimating that 95 percent of people were happy with their results and saw a difference in their results.

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