All our lives we’ve struggled, juggled, and walked a tightrope to maintain some semblance of balance in our lives — school/play, work/family, work/play, spouse/friends, etc. Yet when most people exercise, they focus on increasing muscle mass, endurance, and flexibility, often neglecting exercise to improve balance. Maintaining your sense of balance can pay a huge return on investment: minimized risk for falls. The five methods below can help you keep your balancing act in the air.
1. Survey Says? — Ding, Ding, Ding — Exercise!
Note: Check with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program.
Exercise is the clear winner for reducing the risk of falling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) summarizes the results from 10 exercise-based intervention studies (nine exercise studies and one traction-device study) conducted around the globe. Each of the exercise programs showed a significant reduction in fall risk, as did the traction device.
While methods for calculating effectiveness varied by study, the Veterans Affairs Group Exercise Program showed that “participants were two-thirds less likely to fall compared with those who did not take part in the program.” The three tai chi studies showed that participants were 55, 46, and approximately 50 percent less likely to fall, respectively.
Stephanie Watson, executive editor of Harvard Women’s Health Watch, says, “Tai chi helps improve balance because it targets all the physical components needed to stay upright — leg strength, flexibility, range of motion, and reflexes — all of which tend to decline with age.”
2. Avoid Ice, Snow, and Slippery Surfaces
According to Merck, “Most falls occur when people with a physical condition that impairs mobility or balance encounter an environmental hazard.” Remove yourself from situations that are likely to cause you to lose your balance. Do you have to run errands during inclement weather? If so, enlist help from a friend, neighbor, or family member, or hire a helper.
3. Check Your Vision
If you can’t see where you’re going, you risk for falls increases exponentially. The CDC says, “You may be wearing the wrong glasses or have a condition like glaucoma or cataracts that limits your vision. Poor vision can increase your chances of falling.” Schedule an eye exam at least once a year to ensure you’re wearing the proper lenses. You can also ask your ophthalmologist for eye exercises.
4. Get Up Slowly
The National Institutes of Health advise that you should “always stand up slowly after eating, lying down, or resting. Getting up too quickly can cause your blood pressure to drop.” Dizziness often accompanies a rapid drop in blood pressure.
5. Stand Up Straight
Mother really did know best when she repeated the mantra, “Stand up straight, and pull those shoulders back.” There’s more to lose from poor posture than a poor profile, cramped organs, and aches and pains: You can also lose your sense of balance. Steven Weiniger, a chiropractor who works with seniors, told the Sun Sentinel, “Posture affects everything we do. We want people to build an awareness about their posture . . . and teach them to move with greater symmetry and balance.”
Movement plays the starring role in balance, and maintaining a good sense of balance is one way to help you minimize your risk for falls. It’s time to get moving with a senior exercise program approved by your healthcare practitioner. In addition to these five methods, check out more ways to reduce your risk for falls at home.