A Matter of Balance

By Leslie LaPlace, GHA Fitness Manager

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Staying Steady Helps Prevent Falls

According to the dictionary, balance is defined as “an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady” (noun) or “keep or put (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall (verb).” As we age, balance becomes more of a challenge for a number of reasons, including the natural loss of muscle strength and joint flexibility, reduced reaction time and the risk of inner ear dysfunction, which can throw you off balance. Another culprit is medications, some of which might make you drowsy or unsteady.

A lack of balance increases the likelihood of falls and injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four Americans aged 65 and older fall each year, resulting in falls being the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.

A regular exercise program can help you improve your balance and coordination. Both Goodwin House Alexandria and Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads offer several different group fitness classes that incorporate balance work.

In addition to joining a class, you can do easy things in the comfort of your home that may help reduce the likelihood of a fall. Here are three simple exercises you can do on your own. Remember to stand up straight with head up and eyes forward, and always do these while holding onto something sturdy:

  1. Stand on one leg: Start with 15 seconds and work up to 30 seconds. Using only your fingertips, keep a light grip on a stable object to help you stay balanced. Once you have mastered doing this for 30 seconds, try closing your eyes for a few seconds. Open and close as necessary and work your way up, keeping your eyes closed for 30 seconds while balancing on one leg. Repeat with the other leg.
  2. Heel to toe walks: Standing straight with eyes forward and looking ahead, walk putting the heel of one foot directly in front of the toes of the opposite foot. If you’re feeling bold, try taking a few steps going backward with toes to heel. Remember to either stand close to a wall or lightly hold onto a railing so you can steady yourself as needed.
  3. Obstacle step-overs: Walk forward, lifting each leg high, as if you are stepping over a big dog or tree limb in your path. As you lift each leg, hold a few seconds to challenge your balance. You can also do this sideways, lifting each leg and holding. This is also a great exercise for helping you to stay stable while getting in and out of a car.

Once you have mastered these exercises, click here for a few more. As with everything else, practice makes perfect! Even professional athletes practice many hours per week to get better at their skills. It’s the same with balance. It is important to practice these exercises every day in order to improve your balance. And with exercises this simple, there’s no excuse (or special equipment). So, what are you waiting for?

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Leslie LaPlace is self-described recovering software development project manager. Leslie parlayed a lifelong love of and belief in the restorative power of exercise into a satisfying career working with adults ages 55 and better. She believes staying active can help reduce aches and pains. It’s also a great anti-aging remedy. She has more than six years’ experience working in Arlington County and senior living communities. Leslie is a certified personal trainer and aquatic instructor who loves creating a positive and fun training experience. She believes that it’s never too late to improve your strength and balance!