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Improving Your Balance

Sometimes, Sydney Rice would trip over the curb or something in the house. Other times, she would simply stumble while walking.

“I'd trip over things or come up on a curb and not hit it right. I was falling all the time, regularly, like several times a month,” says Rice, 76, of Boston. “I was fine standing still, but it was when I was moving that I'd fall.”

As a younger person, Rice says, her balance was keen: She danced, rock-climbed and aquaplaned on a board pulled behind a motorboat. But as she aged she began falling regularly while walking.

She isn't alone: After age 40, balance often takes a dive.

Exercises and practices that strengthen the body and improve range of motion can help you maintain better balance in the years to come.

Exercises for Balance

A fitness trainer with special certification in balance and mobility, a physical therapist or a sports physiologist can help identify each individual's factors contributing to poor balance and provide specific, at-home exercises that can help improve those functions.

1. Small Exercises Throughout the Day

The best way to build a better sense of balance is by performing small exercises throughout the day.

To build balance, try standing on one foot for 10 seconds at a time while washing your hands, then switch to the other leg. Increase the time as you become more adept.

Falls often occur in the middle of another task, so it's important to practice balance skills while doing something else.

2. Stork Stands

As balance gradually improves, try “stork stands” by standing on one foot with the other leg pulled up into a triangle. A more difficult exercise, the one-legged squat, can also help boost balance. (Before trying any of these exercises, make sure you are in a safe place where you can prevent yourself from falling, and hold onto something stable if necessary.)

3. Core-Strengthening Exercises

Core-strengthening exercises and those that improve flexibility around the hip abductors also improve posture and stability.

For example, do planks with your body positioned about six inches above the floor, supported by your forearms and toes. By strengthening the core muscles, you can improve your posture and strengthen the body's upright position.

To exercise the hip abductor muscles, try kneeling on the right knee with toes facing down, and left knee bent and over the ankle in a 90-degree position. Place hands on left thigh and press hips forward until there's tension in the front right hip. Hold for 30 seconds and switch legs.

4. Simple Activities

Rice developed better balance by walking while extending a ball in front of her. She also walked with her head turned to the left and then the right, which is “much more difficult than you think,” she says.

Rice also regularly stands on one foot while brushing her teeth and combing her hair, and even while waiting for the bus. These practices have paid off.

“I haven't tripped in months,” she says. “At first, I did, but I got to where I was able to catch myself. Now I no longer trip at all.”

Leg-Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening your legs helps you become stronger, achieve better balance and reduce the risk of falling. Here are some effective ones.

1. Ankle Circles

Start with ankle circles to warm your lower leg muscles before beginning your workout. This will help you avoid injury and reduce soreness.

2. Squats

Squats strengthen your glute and thigh muscles while increasing hip and knee flexibility. If you're new to squats, start with your back against a wall with your feet about 2 feet in front of you. Lower your body until your knees are at 90-degree angles, making sure to keep them from going over your toes. Alternatively, you can do a squat by placing a chair behind you and lower yourself until you're almost seated before raising yourself back up. This is a good option if you're worried about falling.

3. Leg Raises

Leg raises strengthen your leg muscles and the muscles in your lower back, glutes, and hips. To get started, hold onto the back of a chair for support and slowly raise your leg to the side, keeping it in a straight line from your hip to your ankle. Work your way up so that you can do 10 repetitions with your toes pointed and 10 with your foot flexed. With enough practice, you can probably get to the point where you won't need the chair for support.

Strength Training Exercises

Strength training helps you maintain bone health and is a good way to improve your balance and reduce your risk of falling.

1. Wall Pushups

Face a wall, standing a little more than arm's length away. Slowly lean forward and place your hands against the wall, keeping them shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows to lower yourself closer to the wall, then straighten your arms and return to your starting position.

2. Bicep Curls

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with a dumbbell in each hand. With your palms facing out, curl the dumbbells to your shoulders, keeping your elbows still. Hold for a second or two before lowering the weights back down, keeping a slight bend in your elbows at the bottom. If you don't have dumbbells, water bottles filled with sand will work.

3. Lunges

When performing lunges, keep your upper body straight and shoulders back. Step forward with one leg, bending your knee until it's at a 90-degree angle. Keep your knee directly above your ankle, and don't allow your other knee to touch the floor.

Different Types of Yoga and Their Benefits

Yoga calms the mind and strengthens the body. While doing yoga in classes is beneficial for many people, you can do it almost anywhere, including in the comfort of your own home.

1. Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga provides an introduction to basic yoga poses and is perfect for anyone who is just getting started. Hatha yoga is any yoga that teaches correct physical posture.

2. Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa classes have you moving slowly from pose to pose. Most of these classes have a calm atmosphere with quiet music playing in the background.

3. Restorative Yoga

Restorative yoga uses gentle poses to refresh, relax and restore the body. It's perfect for relieving stress and improving flexibility.

4. Water Yoga

Water yoga uses the yoga poses normally done on a mat in the water. Many seniors prefer this method of yoga because it's low impact and easy on joints.

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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.