What can you tell me about balance exercises? I have fallen a few times over the past year and have read that balance exercises can help me regain my steadiness, but I am not exactly sure what to do.
Most people do not think much about practicing their balance, but good balance can be important to staying healthy. As we age, our balance may decline if we do not stay active. Poor balance can lead to falls that may cause injuries.
Every year, more than one in four people age 65 and older fall. This risk increases with age. Here is what you should know about balance, along with some exercises that can help you improve balance.
Aging Affects Balance
Balance is something many people take for granted until it is challenged by a medical condition, medication or advanced age. These factors can affect a person's balance and make one less stable over time.
Poor balance can also lead to a vicious cycle of inactivity. If you feel a little unsteady, you may curtail certain activities. If you are less active, you may not be challenging your balance systems or using your muscles as much. As a result, both balance and strength suffer. Simple acts like strolling through a grocery store or getting up from a chair become trickier. If your confidence suffers, you may become even less active.
Some individuals have balance problems tied to illness, medication or some other specific causes. If you are experiencing problems with your balance, you should always consult your doctor first. Here are four simple exercises some people use to help preserve and improve balance:
- One-legged stands: Stand on one foot for 30 seconds or longer, then switch to the other foot. Stand near a wall or chair for assistance if needed. For an extra challenge, try closing your eyes or standing on a throw pillow.
- Heel-to-toe walking: Take 20 steps while looking straight ahead. Try to walk in a perfectly straight line.
- Standing up: Without using your hands, get up from a straight-backed chair and sit back down 10 to 20 times. This improves balance and leg strength.
- Tai chi: Research has shown that the practice of tai chi – which uses a combination of slow, graceful movements, meditation and deep breathing – can help reduce the risk of falls.
For more information on different balance exercises you can do at home, there are a variety of balance and strength exercises and beginner tai chi instructional videos you can purchase or stream online. Some senior fitness programs offer online classes that guide you through exercises you can do at home.
See a Doctor
If you have already fallen, are noticeably dizzy, unsteady or have a medical condition affecting your balance, you need to see a doctor. The doctor might refer you to a physical therapist or to an appropriate balance-training class in your community. It is important to know that many medicines and medical conditions – from Parkinson's disease to diabetes to inner-ear disorders – can affect balance.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.