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Strength and falls

Older adults need to keep their bodies strong to do everyday activities such as getting out of a chair, walking up and downstairs or pushing the shopping trolley.

Due to ageing, the size and amount of muscle maintained declines. This can result in decreased strength and power, particularly in the lower limbs and trunk, increased frailty and changes in gait and lower bone mineral density. These changes lead to a reduced ability to complete activities of daily living and increase the risk of a fall.

The leg, hip, and trunk muscles are the primary muscles for helping people stay upright and are key muscles to keep older adults strong and reduce the risk of having a fall.

Despite a reduction in strength in older age, strength training can increase muscle mass and functional capacity even in adults aged 80 years and older. Strength training or resistance training causes muscles to work or hold against an applied force or weight. Older adults should aim to complete at least three hours of exercise a week or 30 minutes of physical activity on most days and include exercises that challenge their balance and strengthen their legs.

How can I assist older adults to strengthen their legs?

Exercise programs aimed at increasing the muscle strength of older adults should involve moderate-intensity resistance training. Endurance exercises such as walking and aerobics are effective for improving general fitness, however these exercises are always recommended in conjunction with strength and balance exercises to reduce the risk of falling.

Regular physical activity can also help maintain bone density in older adults as bones can become stronger when extra strain is placed on them. Protecting bone density can reduce both the risk of falls and the likelihood of fracturing a bone if a fall does occur.

Exercises that are beneficial for improving older adults’ bone strength include:

  • Progressive resistance training, or training that becomes more challenging over time, such as lifting weights or using gym equipment
  • Weight-bearing exercises, or exercises performed on the feet, such as gardening, cleaning, tennis and dancing

As good balance is also essential for preventing falls, balance exercises should always be included in strength exercise programs. Learn more about supporting older adults to build their balance, the importance of tailored exercise programs and how you can work with older adults to find the right strength and balance activities. The Injury Matters eDirectory can also help you assist older adults in finding activities in their local area.

Stay On Your Feet® strength-related resources

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