Building strength can ward off falls, improve stability

Dear Wise Living,

I recently took a stumble and fell. It was embarrassing, but fortunately, I didn’t get hurt. I’m still a little uncomfortable getting out and should be doing something at home to get stronger. What are some things I can do to bring back the strength that I’ve lost?


Dear Fallen,

As the cooler temperatures settle in and the leaves start to change colors in northeast Wisconsin, fall has arrived. You most likely have started to see information on fall prevention from those interested in helping adults maintain their independence. Slips happen and quickly, and a significant portion of those can result in a severe injury. The resulting fractures or traumatic head injuries can have a devastating impact with a loss of independence and mobility. In a previous article, I noted that many of the falls that older adults experience go unreported, especially if they live alone. That’s unfortunate because many of the subsequent falls can be prevented. Issues with vision, medications, dehydration, trip hazards, and other causes can be investigated and corrected.

Using evidence-based programs like Stepping On, have been shown to reduce the incidence of falls, especially for those that have fallen or have developed a fear of falling. Focusing on maintaining and improving strength is vital because falling doesn’t necessarily have to be a part of getting older.

Emerging evidence suggests that sitting for prolonged periods adversely affects our health. In this article, we’ll focus on two activities that you can do regularly to

wake up the gluteal muscles, which make up your rear end. Those muscles get to take a holiday when you’ve been sitting, but they’re the ones that need to work to get up from a chair, step up on a curb or get off the toilet. Inactive gluteal muscles aren’t helping out and make the muscles of the lower back work harder. If you’ve been through physical therapy for low back pain, the gluteal bridge and clamshell exercises may be familiar. If not, they are incredibly simple, but highly effective to wake those muscles up. A picture paints a thousand words, and a short video is even better. If you have online access, there are plenty of videos to show you how to do them. Here’s a brief outline:

Gluteal bridge

· Lie on your back, with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent

· Lift your hips toward the ceiling and hold

It’s that simple. Hold the position for 2-3 seconds and intensely squeeze the buttocks muscles. Repeat that 8-12 times and add additional sets as you progress. As you get better at activating those muscles, there are variations that you can try that make it harder. For now, stick with gradually adding sets.


· Lie on your side (it helps to do this against a wall if you’ve never done them)

· Lean slightly forward, so that the top butt cheek is away from the wall

· Draw up your legs, so they are flexed (60 degrees), keeping your knees together

· Now act like a clam and raise your knee upward, keeping your feet together

Focus on squeezing that muscle (gluteus maximus’ little brother – gluteus medius). That muscle works to stabilize the pelvis when you climb stairs or step up on a curb.

As you finish up projects around the house in preparation for the colder months ahead, be especially careful around steps, step stools, and ladders. Consider adding a checklist or online screening tool for fall risk, like the one available online through the National Council on Aging (, to your seasonal routine. Stay safe.

Dr. Ferguson is a physician, Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®, and Managing Director of IKOR in the Greater Green Bay area, passionately providing advocacy and life care management services to seniors and individuals with disabilities. Send your questions and comments for Wise Living to