Every single second, an adult 65 or over in the United States suffers a fall.

This is no exaggeration — this figure is straight from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In previous articles (Your Physical Balance Is More Important Than You Think and 4 Exercises You Can Do At Home To Improve Your Balance), I talked about all the different elements that contribute to fall prevention. The true story you’re about to read highlights what can happen if something gets missed.

Meet Mary — And Her Dedication To Healthy Living

Mary is an intelligent professional. A mother and grandmother. She is one of those special individuals who was immediately swept up to work as a consultant as soon as she retired. At 74 years young, she is still going strong. She works full days, travels for work as well as pleasure, enjoys Cajun-style zydeco dance, and reads bedtime stories every night over Zoom to her granddaughter living on the opposite coast.

I met Mary years ago at the downtown Berkeley YMCA, where she had already made fitness an important part of her life. She had taken part in a new program the Y offered, “Changes: Healthy Weight Loss for Life.” The name, “Changes,” was perfect. It was a 12-week program that offered guidance to participants so they could make lasting changes in their nutrition, stress management, community support, and exercise levels for a more healthy lifestyle.

Mary followed the program, made the changes, lost weight, and greatly improved her fitness. After the program ended, it was not unusual for the Changes members to stay together and continue working out. I never had Mary in one of my groups, but I worked the help desk in the fitness area where she and her fellow Changes partner continued their workouts with their trainer.

Personal Training Journey

When Mary’s trainer had to step away from personal training because of her schedule, Mary and her partner approached me to take over as their new personal trainer. I was thrilled and honored. They were every personal trainer’s dream: hard workers making real gains, always there for their regular workouts, and most of all, they were fun to be around. 

During our years together, Mary trained for some very special milestones: being the mother of the bride, preparing for a knee replacement and recovery, and preparing to become a grandma. We changed up the programs every week but continually worked on posture, core strength, balance, and stretching

Just a few months after I moved to Oregon, the pandemic closed all the gyms on the west coast. I immediately contacted all of my old clients and started offering classes and personal training online. Because Mary was still working and her days were filled with Zoom meetings, we weren’t able to connect. She had friends who talked about the Peloton bike. She bought one and instantly fell in love. It gave her the cardio workout she was craving while giving her some mental release. 

First Balance Incident

In August of 2021, Mary was visiting New York and was out doing some power walking. As she was passing a store, she decided to stop in. Going through the door, she hit an uneven section of the sidewalk and landed face first. It happened so fast she never had time to catch herself. The plastic surgeon put in 23 stitches to close the gash in her lip and did a fantastic job. Mary’s confidence, on the other hand, was shaken. And just for a moment, she questioned whether she was doing enough for her exercise. She quickly dismissed it and told herself she was spending plenty of time walking and riding her Peloton every week.

But in the months since her fall, she had this fleeting sense that maybe she should add some strength training. Her Peloton subscription had that feature, so she checked it out, but she quickly discovered that older adults don’t move at the same pace as their younger counterparts. She told herself that riding and walking were enough to work her core. And this is when she says she really started using “magical thinking” — the idea that she could affect the outcome of an event by doing something that really has no bearing on the circumstances.

Second Balance Incident

Now it’s February 15, 2022. Mary is traveling again and finds herself walking down a dark, unfamiliar stairway. She thinks she’s at the bottom and totally misses the last two steps. This second fall caused a broken humerus bone in the top of her right arm. For 4 weeks she was totally immobile, and for a solid month she had to sleep in her recliner. She told me this fall jolted her out of her magical thinking.

Where Mary had gone astray was equating the amount of time she was exercising with what she was exercising. Make no mistake, her bike time was definitely productive. Her cardio (aerobic) endurance was improved. What was not improved, because there was no strength training working them, was posture and core muscles. And for balance, there were no movements that were helping wake up her proprioceptors. 

Balance And Strength Training Are Now Priorities

That’s why the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get at least 150–300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity (or 75–150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic) activity for endurance. And suggests an additional 2 or more days a week of muscle-strengthening that involves all the major muscle groups.

I’m sure you’ve figured out that Mary and I are working together again. Just before she contacted me, I had started a personal training group on Wednesday evenings at a time that worked for her schedule. She’s healing well and just got released from her physical therapist with no restrictions. Using resistance bands, we’re slowly working on getting her core muscles stronger. Hopefully to the level of her pre-COVID days. And as her personal trainer and friend, I’m very happy to have the opportunity to help Mary work through another milestone.