STEPPING OUT: Participants doing one of the simple yet effective exercises to help strengthen muscles and improve balance.
STEPPING OUT: Participants doing one of the simple yet effective exercises to help strengthen muscles and improve balance.

The simple exercise program to keep you on your feet

"IT'S lovely to have re-found my legs and have them working for me again."

That was the reaction of one woman who completed the free Stepping On program, designed to get over-65s back on their feet and staying on them.

It's a scary fact that one in three people aged 65 and over fall each year, that falls are the leading cause of hospital admissions in older people and that 35 per cent of people who fall become less active.

So being pro-active in building muscle strength and improving balance through gentle exercise and thus avoiding falls makes a lot of sense.

The Stepping On program is a simple, laidback, fun, but evidence-based way to get those who have fallen or fear falling back on their feet and staying on them.

Co-ordinator Fay Huckstepp, who has been leading the program for over three years, said it can be life-changing.

"It gives people back their confidence and keeps them more independent so they can stay in their own environment or recuperate after injury, an operation or a fall," she said.

"As you get older, your body does take longer to recover, but with a little weight-bearing exercise muscle can be rebuilt in about two weeks if you stick diligently to the program."

And provided you can walk (even with a walker, as long as you can put it aside for the class), the exercises are designed not to be beyond the capability of anyone up to 99.

One simple step is "retraining your brain" to walk heel to toe, promoting a steady gait, and getting rid of what can become a habitual aged "shuffle".

After the first week, exercises are individually tweaked as necessary by the physio to help anyone who is having difficulty.

The program runs for two hours (including a morning tea break) one day a week for seven weeks, and Fay said people don't want it to end and generally wish they had begun sooner.

"You can physically see some people's confidence growing from week to week, especially those that have had a fall in the past," she said.

Specialist guest facilitators include a physio, occupational therapist, vision, footcare, pharmacist, and police talking about community safety.

"It gives you a real insight into ageing and what steps to take to avoid a fall both in the home and outside, such as moving over uneven terrain," Fay said.

"A lot of it is common sense, but it brings issues to the forefront of your mind and makes you re-evaluate things, as we often get complacent."

And she said, every participant will have progressed from their first movement test in Week 1 to their test in Week 7, whether it is ease of movement, getting out of a chair, or walking up stairs.

"I love it because I get to be involved in helping preserve someone's lifestyle, and that's pretty special," Fay said.

The program is fee and run by Adssi HomeLiving Australia, as an initiative of the NSW Department of Health.

The next program runs from Tuesday, August 7-September 11, from 10am-12pm at the Uniting Church Long Jetty. To register call 1300 578 478. To find out more, go to www.adssihomeliving.com.au.


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