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The FAU Exercise Lab

April 23, 2012; Palm Beach Post; A Balancing Act for Seniors; by Steve Dorfman.

The FAU Exercise Lab provides assessment tests on body composition, metabolism and stress.
  • Body composition
    • Underwater weighing, $50
    • Bod Pod, $25
    • Skinfolds, $15
  • Resting metabolic rate: $100
  • Stress test:
    • $150 ($50 for lactate, $100 for VO2max)
    • Submax test: $100
  • Wingate: $50
  • Kincom assessment: $40
This information is as of September, 2010.

We all seek figurative balance in our lives.

The older we get, though, the more important it becomes to focus on our literal balance - that is, the ability to stay safely upright and ambulatory.

Oh, sure, it's easy to poke fun at those cheesy LifeCall "I've fallen and I can't get up" TV commercials. But the humor ceases immediately if an elderly loved one of yours tumbles to the ground.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths in adults 65 and over. In addition, statistics say that one in three seniors will experience a fall during each year.

That's why the good folks over at Florida Atlantic University's Exercise Science and Health Promotion Department recently partnered with three Delray Beach senior-living communities (Abbey Delray, Abbey Delray South and Harbour's Edge) to provide a select group of 15 residents with the training tools necessary to improve their balance, mobility and, most importantly, reduce their vulnerability to falling.

"More than 90 percent of falling incidents that cause injuries in seniors are predictable - and preventable," says Mike Schmidt, an exercise physiologist and director of fitness at Abbey Delray South. "Most often, they happen because seniors lack the strength and mass in the major muscles of the legs and hips to right themselves if they become unsteady."

Schmidt explains that, absent a regularly followed, functional strength- and muscle-building program, studies show that, between the ages of 30 and 70, people lose 30 percent of their muscle mass. Each subsequent decade will result in another 30 percent loss.

"By age 90, you'll have lost 90 percent of your muscle mass. To remain independent, and ambulatory, seniors must exercise," Schmidt explains.

Before starting their balance-improving, strength-building program, Schmidt's 15 clients, who ranged in age from 75 to 95, were put through baseline testing at FAU to measure the following: gait width; gait length and speed; lower-body strength; and functional balance and agility.

Individual evaluations, which were done under the supervision of FAU's exercise science department Chairwoman Dr. Susan Graves, were administered via NASA-level computerized equipment.

"We were assessing their current physical ability, with the goal of helping them to more safely perform the activities of daily living: standing up and sitting down; entering and exiting a car; negotiating stairs; stepping off curbs, etc.," explains Graves.

After six weeks of thrice-weekly training sessions with Schmidt, the group was retested at FAU. The result: Everyone improved in all categories - including an average 20 percent increase in lower-body strength.

"I feel much stronger and more sure of myself after participating in the balance program," says Sylvia Klein, 84.

"I'm definitely going to stay with this program," added Tom Lawrence, 87.

Of course, everybody in Schmidt's group also understands the need to minimize avoidable risks in their daily lives. Among Schmidt's recommendations to lessen the risk of falling:

In addition, Schmidt stresses that, "No matter how sedentary you are, or have been, you're never too old to benefit from exercising."

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