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Avoiding Falls: 9 Ways To Improve Your Balance

For many people, particularly older and heavier adults, the idea of an accidental fall can be terrifying, with the potential for long-term, or even permanent, damage.

After the age of 40, you’re faced with a natural and gradual loss of muscle mass unless you do something to stop it. Losing that strength takes a toll on your balance. Other health conditions – strokes, for example – can also make you more vulnerable to stumbles.

Fortunately, there are things you can do on your own to improve your strength and balance and  give you more confidence. Before you get started, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor or a physical therapist for an assessment of your balance and coordination. But among the activities and exercises to consider:

  1. Yoga: Yoga can help improve your balance by building strength, stretching your muscles and giving you a better awareness of how your body moves. Focus on form rather than worry about how many repetitions of a particular pose you can accomplish.
  2. Tai Chi: This martial art is designed around slow, graceful movements and postures. Tai Chi can help in numerous ways by strengthening and improving your ankle flexibility. It can also help you learn to distribute your weight better by increasing your body awareness.
  3. Walking: Particularly if you are just getting started, simply walking can be a good way to work on balance. Bringing a friend along can increase the challenge by forcing you to pay to attention to the conversation while walking. For even more of a challenge, climb up and down stairs.
  4. Biking: Riding a bike builds leg strength and endurance. If you are nervous about riding, try a stationary bike.
  5. Swimming: Swimming improves your endurance and lower leg strength. It also strengthens your core and improves the coordination between your upper and lower body.
  6. Heel to toe walk: Start standing with one foot directly in front of the other, as if you are standing on a tightrope. Hold the position for 30 seconds. When this becomes easier, start walking, moving your feet in this heel-to-toe manner until you have traveled 10 to 12 feet.
  7. One-leg stand: Start standing near a sturdy support structure. Then raise one leg and stand for 30 seconds on the other leg. Alternate legs, doing three to five repetitions on each side. When it becomes easier, add in small tasks, such as brushing your teeth or talking on the phone.
  8. Standing marches: Start standing near something sturdy for support. Then slowly march in place for 30 seconds. As it becomes easier, pick up the pace and try different surfaces, including carpet, hardwood floors and grass.
  9. Sit to stand: Start by sitting in a chair that doesn’t slide or roll. Your feet should be flat on the ground and there should be a sturdy surface for support nearby. Next, slide forward to the edge of the chair and slowly stand without using your hands. Then slowly sit back down, repeating the exercise 10 times. As it becomes easier, you can hold hand weights.

Getting Started

If it has been a while since you’ve been active, start slowly to recover some of your lost strength.

You may need to work with your primary care doctor to develop a plan that’s going to work for you and whatever physical limitations you might have. If you have arthritis, for example, you may need to channel your love for golf into some other activity that gets you off the couch. If your knees can’t handle the impact from running, you might be better off biking.

The important thing is that you do something to counter that gradual loss of muscle and stability, which will only get worse over time.

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