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Health & Wellness

Find Your Balance: Don’t Overlook This Essential Part of Staying Fit

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A key part of any fitness regimen may be one you’re overlooking: balance exercises.

“Maintaining good balance is important throughout our life, but especially as we age,” says Rene Swar, wellness director of Rose Villa Senior Living, a life-enrichment community in Portland, Oregon. “For older adults, falling because of poor balance can be catastrophic.” According to the National Institute of Aging more than one in three people age 65 years or older falls each year. The risk of falling rises with age, and, with that comes fall-related problems, including trips to the hospital, broken bones and even disability.1

If Swar had it her way, we’d all keep engaging in the kind of childhood play, like walking on a straight chalk-drawn line and pretending it’s a tightrope, that sharpen balance skills.  You can ask any nearby grandkid or great-grandkid for a tutorial.

As an alternative, Swar developed a simple balance regimen that you can practice for a few minutes every day. “It’s never too late to improve your balance,” she says.

As with any new or different exercise routine, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before beginning a new regimen.

1. Heel-to-toe walk. Place the heel of one foot just in front of the other. Pick a fixed spot ahead of you and keep your arms to your sides.  Focus on the spot ahead of you as you take a step, putting your heel just in front of the toe of your other foot.  Repeat for 20 steps forward, and, if you feel comfortable, for 20 steps back. Do three series. If you feel unsteady, do this exercise close to a wall or with a friend nearby spotting you.

2. Advanced heel-to-toe walk. Repeat the movements above, first with your arms stretched out at shoulder height, and then with your arms crossed at your chest.

3. Standing heel-to-toe sequence. With your feet heel to toe, look over one shoulder for a couple of seconds, then move your head to look over your other shoulder. Repeat a couple of times. If you feel steady, look up at the ceiling and hold the position for 15 seconds.

4. Kickstand. Stand on one leg with your other leg slightly bent, your toes pointed down and hovering a couple of inches above the floor. Tap the floor with the toes of your back foot. Repeat ten times. Switch to your other leg and repeat.

5. Flamingo.  Begin in the kickstand position. Raise your non-supporting leg a few inches off the ground and hold the position for five to ten seconds. Repeat 10 times, then repeat with your other leg. Work toward holding the flamingo for 30 seconds. You can hold the back of a sturdy chair, or keep one within arm’s reach, for stability.

If you lose your balance while doing any of these exercises, don’t get discouraged. Instead, Swar says, use it as an opportunity to practice recovery, which is as critical a tool as balance itself in preventing falls. The best way to react when you’ve been bumped or lose your balance is to bend both knees slightly and step out into a stable shoulder-wide stance, she says.

If you like these balance exercises, you may also like Tai Chi, an ancient form of Chinese exercises. “Tai chi movements are performed slowly and are very controlled,” Swar says. “You practice holding a wide range of different positions, and that can strengthen your ability to maintain balance if you’re walking on an uneven pavement or jostled at the mall.”

Reference:

  1. Prevent Falls and Fractures, National Institute on Aging. 

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