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Gait instability, which contributes to the risk of falling, is a serious concern for the elderly. Gait training involves having older people do walking exercises and learn techniques that will prevent them from falling. These techniques also may make walking more comfortable for the elderly and improve their quality of life.
Exercise programs that focus on stretching hip muscles may help improve gait in the elderly. A study performed at the University of Virginia observed 74 elderly individuals who performed hip-stretching exercises twice a day for 10 weeks. The results included an increase in walking speed and an improvement in gait for the participants. The hip flexor and extensor muscles targeted in this study help lift the knees, which is important in maintaining a proper gait.
Strength training that targets the legs can help elderly individuals improve their gait pattern and reduce the risk of falling. A 12-week program with leg-strengthening exercises three days a week will help with walking speed, cadence and length of steps and increase the ability to raise the toes completely off the floor while walking. Depending on the patient's ability level, five knee lifts per leg, 10 to 15 leg extensions for each leg, five to 10 lunges per leg and 10 to 15 sitting single-leg raises per leg are appropriate lower-limb exercises for seniors.
Participating in aerobic exercises can increase overall strength in older people who are able to maintain this level of activity. Aerobic exercise increases breathing and heart rate to the point that it is difficult to speak while exercising. This vigorous type of activity is associated with improved gait, mental cognition, balance and sleep and decreased fatigue and pain. Aerobic activity for the elderly people should include 30-minute sessions of uninterrupted jogging or walking three times a week. Low-impact aerobic activity is more appropriate for individuals with arthritis or other musculoskeletal concerns and can include walking on a treadmill, riding a stationary bike or using an elliptical trainer.
The "American Journal of Health Promotion" published a 2011 study showing that people over age 65 experienced improved gait and strength from training with resistance bands. Study participants worked out with the bands five times a week for 16 weeks. Most participants experienced increased walking speed, gait length and lower-body strength. Resistance bands are made of rubber tubing and are usually available in 4-foot lengths with handles at each end. Exercises with this device involve pulling on the handles while the band is wrapped around another part of your body, usually your feet. The pulling motion strengthens muscles in your abdomen, arms and legs.