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Senior Citizens Play Schoolyard Games With A Lifesaving Purpose

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- When was the last time you played dodge ball, cat and mouse, or hula hoops?

Would you believe those games are actually being used to prevent injuries in older adults?

As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez explained, a new fitness class has older folks acting like kids on the playground, but for a serious reason; preventing falls -- which the CDC said are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in seniors.

Each week a group of seniors steps back in time to their days in the schoolyard.

"It is so much fun," Lois Siegel said.

It's not all fun and games. The 62 and older crowd at fitness center Asphalt Green in New York City is pushing their bodies to the brink of falling to prevent injuries in the real world.

"They have to use their hands, their legs, they've gotta use almost all parts of their body. So they start to feel their center of balance, they feel where they are in space," Marcy Simon said.

Researchers at the Hospital for Special Surgery hope the pilot program will lower the number of seniors who fall each year.

"Can lead to sometimes a downward spiral. SO you aren't as strong, so you aren't as confident, and if you aren't as confident you don't move as well so you are at greater risk of falling again," exercise physiologist Jason Machowsky said.

"You feel stronger, so you feel more secure walking, running, and dancing, which I like to do," Aurea 'Cookie' Garcia said.

Instructors are seeing dramatic results. Some seniors have even hit the ground, popped back up, and gotten back in the game.

Seigel, 79, has even surprised herself.

"That we didn't think we could do anymore," she said.

Instructors also teach students what to do if they feel like they are going to fall, so they are less likely to get hurt.

Doctors hope that re-awakening those long dormant neuro-muscular pathways by playing games will help seniors recover if they lose their balance or trip on the many uneven surfaces in the city or things like rugs, shoes, and grandchildren's toys at home.

Ninety-percent of hip fractures are the result of falls, one of five will result in death within a year.

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