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Published on February 12, 2016

Stay flexible as you age – but keep off the ladder!Stay flexible as you age – but keep off the ladder!

Joint flexibility, which can decrease by up to 50% as you get older, can determine such things as your ability to remain independent or your tendency to develop chronic illnesses, like heart disease.

Although, you may not be as flexible as you were when you were younger, activities as simple as going for a walk with a friend or in a group on a daily basis can make a big difference. Researchers at the National Institute on Aging recommend at least 30 minutes of daily activity that causes you to breathe hard.

While staying active through walking and other aerobic activity has demonstrated value to your health, you should also focus on improved balance and flexibility, said Devin McManus, MD, an internal medicine physician at Falmouth Hospital.

Flexibility helps to maintain balance and is as important as activity and strength exercises, he said. Many studies have shown that tai chi and yoga added to aerobic exercise improves balance and flexibility.

Medicare made changes in 2013 that cover annual wellness evaluations for seniors. The focus is on function and prevention rather than the disease component.

“We want to make sure folks are safe and as independent as possible as they age and part of that is their mobility,” said Dr. McManus.

Are you unsafe or is your ability to remain independent in question? There are two ways to assess these concerns, said Dr. McManus.

The first is observation. Your primary care physician has usually established a relationship with you and your family and becomes very in-tune with what you are able to do on a daily basis. He or she will look for changes you may have from the previous year or visit.

“This observation and knowledge is essential to make recommendations to the patient,” said Dr. McManus.

The second is formal testing. The TUG (Timed Get Up and Go) test demonstrates your ability to get around your home safely, and assessed your risk of falling. The physician observes your gait, the time it takes to cross the room, the ability to get out of the chair easily and walk without holding on to furniture.

Another important assessment is your social support in your home and the community. Do you live with your spouse or other family members, participate in a formal exercise program, or need other services, such as physical therapy? These questions and answers will help to complete the wellness evaluation and put in place services you may need to help you remain healthy, safe and independent.

Injury prevention is also vital and the bottom line is to use common sense, said Dr. McManus.

“I am struck by how many men in their late 80’s are still climbing ladders and should not be doing this,” he said. “Your ability to recover from an accident is much more limited compared to when you were in your 50’s or younger.”

His message to seniors, “Stay active, stay engaged and stay safe.”