Do you think you're more likely to fall when you're walking to the grocery store or when you're exercising? If you answered the latter, the results of a study from UMass Medical School might surprise you.
The researchers in this study found that older adults have twice the risk of falling when they are going shopping or walking to appointments than when they're exercising.
And that's not all. Their risk of injuring themselves is four times higher if they fall on the sidewalk or street than if they fall in a gym or on a track.
While conducting this study, Wenjun Li, PhD, associate professor of medicine at UMMS, examined the walking behavior of older adults. He focused on the socioeconomic status of neighborhoods and the likelihood of outdoor falls. Older adults fell most often in poorer neighborhoods. In these areas people are more likely to walk for utilitarian purposes, such as to run errands or attend appointments, rather than for recreational purposes.
Dr. Li did not find any differences in occurrence of falls that could be attributed to health. This suggests that environment is the most significant factor. The state of sidewalks and curbs can make falls more likely, particularly if they are in disrepair.
I can attest to this. I fell on a sidewalk in the complex in which I live and broke two ribs when I tripped on uneven pavement. While I've recovered from my injury, it took that fall to teach me to be extremely careful when walking anywhere, but especially in areas with uneven streets and pavements. The days of reading my mail while walking are gone forever.
Falls may not seem like they matter all that much when you're young – you just pick yourself up and brush yourself off. But as we age, they can become more significant. In fact, falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in adults 65 and older. My broken ribs taught me that falls truly can be serious. I hope you won't have to learn this lesson the hard way like I did.
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Use caution whenever and wherever you're walking, but especially in outdoor areas that pose more hazards. But don't let this news dissuade you from walking for exercise. That's still great for your health – and less risky than other forms of walking, as the researchers found. Just choose a safe place and investigate your environment carefully so you avoid anything that might trip you up.
If you're concerned about falling, exercise is one of the best ways to keep your legs strong and able to keep you upright. If exercise is hard for you, consider using a Power Plate. I've told you about this in previous issues of my newsletter. It's a great way to exercise your whole body in the comfort of your own home. You can find out more by calling 888-713-0592 and reading my previous issues.
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand
Li, Wenjun Li, PhD. “Utilitarian Walking, Neighborhood Environment, and Risk of Outdoor Falls,” American Journal of Public Health, July 17, 2014.