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August 18, 2016

Simple Ways to Boost Balance

Balance is important to maintain health and independence as you age. Fortunately, there are simple ways to boost balance, such as these provided by Harvard. Here are highlights from that article and other quality sources. As always, check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

One important tip is to strengthen your muscles. When your abdominal or gluteal muscles are weak, then it’s more challenging to walk well. If you need to strengthen your core muscles, the Harvard article recommends starting with gentle pelvic lifts before moving to the more intense wall planks, and adding in leg lifts.

Movements that are part of tai chi and yoga “make you pay attention the control and quality of movement, rather than the quantity, which improves your balance.” And, as WebMD points out, a big advantage of tai chi is that it can be “adapted to fit just about any fitness level.” In fact, if you want to start out slower, you can even practice tai chi while sitting down.

Another article by WebMD suggests that yoga’s tree pose is especially well suited for older adults who want to improve balance. With this pose, you start out standing with your legs together, arms straight up, palms together. Then, raise one leg slightly, keeping your toes on the ground, your heel touching the inside of your other ankle. If possible, maintain this pose for 20 to 30 seconds before switching legs. Once you are confident with this pose, raise your leg until the sole of your lifting leg rests on the inside of your other lower leg.

Exercise Descriptions

The National Institutes of Health, Senior Health, offers an article listing simple exercises to do to improve balance. What’s especially helpful is that, after the description of a particular article, you can click on a link to see the exercise being demonstrated. This article from the NHS in the UK also provides helpful step-by-step instructions, along with this advice: “Wear loose, comfortable clothing and keep some water handy. Build up slowly and aim to gradually increase the repetitions of each exercise over time. Consider doing the exercises near a wall or a stable chair just in case you lose your balance.”

Appointments You May Need

Balance problems often have, at their core, a vision issue—and the solution could be as simple as an eye exam and a new prescription for glasses. The Mayo Clinic points out that inner ear issues are also often at fault when balance is shaky, while the Harvard article discusses how physical therapy for balance improvement helps you to coordinate key systems that help you to maintain good balance: your joints, brain, ear/vestibular system and vision.

When You Need Extra Help

You may need a cane or walker to walk with more confidence. But make sure you get measured for fit, along with training in how to most effectively use your assistive walking device. As these devices get more sophisticated, more options need explanation. For example, “Walkers are available with wheels intended for different terrain, lockable brakes, seats, baskets and other features such as headlights. Canes are available with various handgrips and bases.”

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