You probably know someone who’s fallen and broken a hip. But what you may not know is that it’s not just the elderly who fall, or break their hips.
You can be very youthful and still be at high risk.
- The risk of hip fracture doubles every five years after you turn fifty.
- Nine out of ten hip fractures happen to people over sixty.
- Over 25% of those people will develop complications and die within a year.1
However, no matter what your age or level of fitness, you can take one simple step right now to keep this from happening to you.
It involves improving the signals to your muscles, which start to slow down as you get older. This makes it harder to keep your balance, and for your muscles to respond when you need them – to keep you from falling, for example.
Researchers at the University of Delaware looked at how muscles respond when the brain’s neurons send out electrical signals for the muscles to move.
They found that in the elderly, not only do muscles respond more slowly, but neurons actually fire less frequently. At first glance this seems to confirm the conventional wisdom that slowing down physically is an inevitable consequence of aging but there’s more…
The researchers discovered that strength training significantly improves both neuron and muscle response.2
In other words, you can “turn back the clock” on this particular feature of aging to help keep your mobility as you age and avoid the risk of breaking a bone in a fall.
Strength training builds up the so-called “fast-twitch” muscles. This is the kind that gave our ancestors the sudden, explosive power they needed to capture prey or escape from danger.
These same muscles – and the neurons that activate them – are responsible not only for power, but for coordination, balance, and sudden response.
If you’re going up stairs, going for a walk, or bicycling, you’re much less likely to fall if you have more fast-twitch muscle power. The Delaware study showed that this is true no matter how old you are.
Other studies show that leg strength is the number one predictor of how active, healthy and mobile you’ll stay as you get older.3
So here’s something you can do starting right now to boost the power in your legs and hips. It’s my favorite leg workout, and the one I do every day, no matter what else I add to it. They’re called Hindu squats.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
- Extend your arms out in front of you, parallel to the ground with your hands open and palms facing down.
- Inhale briskly and pull your hands straight back towards you as if you’re rowing.
- As you pull back, turn the wrists up and make a fist.
- At the end of the inhalation, your elbows should be behind you with both hands in a fist, palm side up.
- From this position, exhale, bend your knees and squat.
- Let your arms fall to your sides and touch the ground with the tips of your fingers.
- Continue exhaling and let your arms swing up as you stand back up to the starting position.
Repeat at the pace of one repetition every four seconds. Once you are comfortable with the form, you can increase your speed to one squat per second. Repeat until you feel winded. Rest, recover and do two more sets.
It’s important to keep in mind that increasing your strength – not doing “aerobics” or other endurance exercise – is what makes the difference to reduce the risk of fractures.
With more strength, you’ll do a lot more for yourself than avoid injury. You’ll also boost your immune system, elevate your mood, increase your stamina, burn more fat, and even prevent chronic aches (like back pain).
One final note: If you think you’re too old to get these benefits, think again. Researchers at Tufts University’s Human Nutritional Research Center studied the effects of strength training on a group between the ages of 63 and 98. Most needed hearing aids or wheelchairs.
After just ten weeks, even the most elderly saw an increase in muscle strength, stamina, and stability. Many were able to walk unaided by the end of the study.4
The fact is falling doesn’t have to be a part of aging. You get to decide that you’re not going to take it lying down.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD
1. “Hip Fractures In The Elderly.” A Place for Mom. aplaceformom.com. Retrieved Sept. 7, 2014. 2. Cristopher A. Knight and Gary Kamen, “Modulation of motor unit firing rates during a complex sinusoidal force task in young and older adults,” Journal of Applied Physiology, 102(2007): 122-129. 3. Swallow, Elisabeth B., et al, “Quadriceps strength predicts mortality in patients with moderate to severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” Thorax 2007;62:115-120 4. Klatz R., Hormones of Youth, American Academy of Anti-Aging, Chicago 1999 p. 47–48.