Amy Fastier: Steady as you go – helping the elderly beat falls

A Steady Steps Class which is for people who have had falls and/or are in fear of falling.
A Steady Steps Class which is for people who have had falls and/or are in fear of falling.
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There’s no doubt that Scotland has enjoyed an abundance of sun in the last few months and whilst too much can be harmful to your skin, it does also provide some valuable health benefits.

Maintaining bone health is an important part of healthy ­ageing, with the sun providing our main, natural source of essential vitamin D.

The Scottish Government has said that the UK population is at risk of low vitamin D levels due to us living much of our lives indoors in a country with limited sunlight. Those living in settings such as nursing homes are at an even higher risk of vitamin D deficiencies.

Whilst vitamin D alone will not improve bone health, it can improve combined with regular physical activity and a calcium-rich diet.

Many people are aware of the ­Government’s recommendation for adults to take 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week. However, fewer people are aware that, in addition to cardiovascular activity, strength exercises involving the major muscle groups should also be undertaken twice a week.

A recent report from Public Health England (PHE) and the Centre for Ageing Better highlights that there is a real challenge in promoting ­physical activity, with unequal emphasis on cardio fitness rather than the strength components.

This imbalance has been captured in another report, which underlines ’the forgotten guidelines’ that ­muscle and bone health and the ability to ­balance are the underpinning ­components of physical activity. Each contributes independently to overall health and functional ability and can offer lifelong benefits.

Muscle and bone mass ordinarily peaks before the age of 30. To slow the decline in bone and muscle ­density and maintain capacity and function as we age, strengthening activities should be completed at least twice a week. Muscle-strengthening activities can include carrying or moving heavy loads, such as ­groceries, or an activity that involves stepping or jumping, such as dancing.

It is also recommended that ­older adults, and those at risk of falls or fractures, incorporate balance and coordination activities such as yoga or tai chi at least two days a week. For those most at risk of a fall, a supervised and structured exercise ­programme is recommended.

The PHE report also found that only one in three men and one in four women currently do enough of the right types of ­physical activity for healthy muscles and bones.

Edinburgh Leisure is dedicated to creating opportunities for people to lead more active, healthy lives. One is through the delivery of physical activity referral programmes. Fit for Health and Steady Steps support people with conditions such as arthritis, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis to improve their health and wellbeing through physical activity.

Fit for Health, funded through the Edinburgh Health & Social Care partnership, supports people with a range of long-term health conditions through a 16-week circuit-based physical activity programme.

Steady Steps aims to reduce the likelihood of falls and is funded through the ­Prevention Investment Fund administered by the Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations Council. The 16-week group-based physical activity ­programme focuses on strengthening muscles, bones and improving balance. By working on strength, balance and gait, Steady Steps can improve physical independence, reduce social isolation and improve overall quality of life. The sentiments of one participant echoes what we hear regularly from older people: “Steady Steps has been the best thing that has ever happened to me after my fall.

“It’s given me confidence, helped my balance and helped me to regain my mobility. I feel stronger and no longer rely on my stick.’’

Each Steady Steps class is followed by social time with refreshments. These sessions aim to encourage self-management in fall prevention, whilst also providing participants with the opportunity to socialise, share experiences and tips and build friendships. So, don’t let brittle bones shatter your life. Make hay while the sun shines and get your recommended dose of vitamin D and physical activity – and remember to combine cardio and strengthening exercises for optimum bone-health.

For more information on Steady Steps, Fit for Health or Edinburgh Leisure, please contact active@edinburghleisure.co.uk or call 0131 458 2260.

Amy Fastier is a Health Development Officer (Falls Prevention) at Edinburgh Leisure.