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Help reduce your risk of falls with these simple moves.
It’s easy to take balance for granted — until you catch yourself wobbling when you stand up from pulling weeds or tying your shoes. As your body ages, staying upright is no simple matter.
Balance requires several complicated systems working in concert — almost like a symphony — to keep you stable, says Allen Towfigh, M.D., a clinical instructor of neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.
“As we get older, these systems tend to become blunted and slow, which can result in a greater likelihood of a fall,” says Dr. Towfigh.
Health conditions can also trip you up — literally. Strokes, foot problems, poor eyesight and certain medications or combinations of medicines can lead to balance issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Hearing loss is another factor in falls among older adults. When sensitive hair cells within the inner ear are destroyed due to loud noise, trauma, or ear infections, the balance systems described by Dr. Towfigh are altered, say researchers at the Rockefeller University in New York City. Once these sensors are gone, they don’t grow back; the result is hearing loss and balance problems.
Another big factor that can impact your stability is a weak core. That’s the chain of muscles that help support your spine and work to keep you steady on your feet.
The good news is that it’s never too late to work on improving your balance. Here’s how.
How Strength and Balance Exercises Help Prevent Falls
“Taking it easy” can actually be risky for older adults, notes the National Institute on Aging (NIA). Inactivity is often to blame when everyday activities become difficult. It’s also one reason why an older adult falls every second of every day, according to the CDC.
The foundation of a stable body begins with leg strength, says Michele Aliani, a licensed physical therapist and clinical director at Professional Physical Therapy in Rockville Centre, New York.
“Exercises such as bike riding with gentle resistance, leg raises with ankle weights, or rising up and down on your toes work well to strengthen leg muscles,” Aliani says.
If an underlying health condition increases your risk of falling, low-impact exercises and activities are the way to go, says Steven McDaniels, director of fitness and athletics at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida.
“In many cases, adults over age 65 are already dealing with arthritis or osteoporosis, which makes fractures from falls more likely,” says McDaniels. Their lost confidence makes them even less likely to engage in physical activity to reduce the fall risk. The solution, he says, is to spend two to three hours a week going for walks, doing some yoga poses or engaging in similar low-impact activities. (Gardening counts!)
Stick with it, and in no time you can have regained trust in what your body can do.
4 Balance Exercises Older Adults Should Try
We asked Aliani and McDaniels to share their favorite balance moves. Aim to complete two sets of each exercise four times a week.
Friendly reminder: Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you’re coming back from an injury or surgery, or have a chronic condition.
1. Single-Leg Stand
Stand on one foot for 5 to 10 seconds. If you have to, stand close to a wall or countertop and hold on with a light grip. One set equals 15 to 20 repetitions.
Challenge yourself: Over time, try standing on an unsteady surface, such as a soft pillow.
2. Stand on One Leg and Catch a Ball
While standing on one leg, have a friend toss you a ball. Stand close to a wall or chair for support, if needed. One set is 15 to 20 repetitions on each leg.
Solo variation: Bounce the ball off a wall and catch it on the rebound.
3. Heel-to-Toe Walk
Walk in a straight line by putting the heel of one foot directly in front of the toes of your other foot. Stay close to a wall for support, if needed. One set is 15 to 20 steps.
4. Step Up to Balance
With one leg, step up onto a 6- to 12-inch-high platform, keeping your toes pointing forward. Then step back down and repeat with the opposite leg. One set is 15 to 20 repetitions on each leg.
More Ways to Help Lower Your Fall Risk
Renew’s “Falls and Fractures” quick tip sheet covers everything from hidden fall hazards to the best ways to avoid breaking a bone — and more. Learn more here.