Prevention is best way to minimize fall injuries

I read an old Chinese proverb recently. It said, "Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up." Really? Refusing to get up? Refusing? How about this? I can't get up! That's right. I've fallen and I can't get up!

As the American population ages, the harmful impact of falls continues to rise. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, more than one-third of adults 65 or older fall each year.

These falls are the leading cause of injury deaths. They also are the most common cause of injuries and hospital admissions for trauma among older adults. Of those who fall, 20-30 percent suffer moderate to severe injuries that reduce mobility and independence and increase the risk of premature death.

Prevention is one sure way to minimize the occurrence of falls. If you start early, you can delay physical frailty and improve functional mobility.

Quality of life as we get older is largely dependent on our ability to keep doing what we want for as long as possible and with little or no pain. Maintaining functional fitness is how we do it.

Functional fitness means "having the physiologic capacity to perform normal, everyday activities safely and independently without undue fatigue."

So what things can we do to minimize falls and improve functional fitness, and how do we measure it? There are a variety of functional fitness measures including cardio, strength, endurance, power, balance and agility. One such test is the "30-Second Chair Stand." This test measures lower body strength necessary for tasks such as climbing stairs and getting in and out of the tub, car or chair.

Try this test. Locate a chair, such as one from the dining room table. Stand in front of it facing away from the chair. Fold your arms across your chest with your fingertips on opposite shoulders. Use a phone or kitchen timer and time yourself for 30 seconds. See how many times you can sit and stand back up in 30 seconds.

If you are an older woman and you score between 10 and 15 or if you are an older man and score between 12 and 17, you are in the 50th percentile. This means you are just about average for most Americans your age.

If you score higher than that, you are above average. Keep up the good work and continue to maintain a strong body.

If you score fewer than eight unassisted stands, you are in the risk zone. You might benefit from some exercises to strengthen your legs and lower body.

One sure way to improve this test and your leg strength is to practice these chair sits daily. Try doing them during television commercials or while waiting at the doctor's office. Also take walks more often.

Walking up hills is a good way to build leg strength. Try some wall sits. Lean against a wall with your back to the wall. Slide down until you feel a slight burning in your legs. You don't need to bend down very far. Never slide lower than a 90-degree angle (the position you would be in if you were seated in a chair and your knees were at the same height as your hips), as this can place a lot of strain on your joints.

Count to 10 before standing back up. As you build up strength, you can do this longer. Then retest yourself with the "30-Second Chair Stand" in about three months. See if you have improved.

Muscular strength and bone strength are critical to reducing falls and minimizing injury.

Weight-bearing exercises such as these described will go far to make a difference.

Remember that old Chinese proverb? Well, I am not going to pretend to rewrite history, but I will say, "Success is not just getting up; it's refusing to fall down."

Annie R. Lindsay is an assistant professor and exercise physiologist at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She conducts research and programming in adult fitness, physical activity, body image and childhood obesity prevention. Contact her at