Saturday, October 10, 2020

Balance Exercises Keep You on Your Feet!

Many people worry about losing their cognitive ability as they age, and it is a realistic concern.  As a result, they may watch their diet, get exercise and work crossword puzzles.  What many seniors do not realize, however, is that a serious risk to their memory and brain health is the possibility of falling and hitting their head.

According to the National Council on Aging, one out of every four people over the age of 65 will fall each year.  Every 11 seconds, a senior is treated for a fall in an emergency room.  Every 19 minutes in the United States an older person dies from a fall.  Fall prevention and the protection of your brain from trauma is extremely important for anyone who wants to live a long, healthy life.

Exercises to Improve Your Balance

In the retirement community where we live, balance is a component of nearly every exercise class, whether you are taking yoga, tai chi, or an aerobics class.  One way to prevent falls is to strengthen your muscles and, at the same time, concentrate on your balance.  There are a variety of types of balance exercises which can benefit you, and they can be done easily at home by most healthy adults.

First of all, you do not want to fall while you are doing your balance exercises.  As a result, make sure you have a wall or stable chair near you to help you stabilize yourself as you gain strength.

Stand on one leg - Place your hand on a wall or chair, put your weight on one leg and lift your other foot off the floor. You can tap your foot on the floor ahead of you or to the side. Switch legs. Start with just a half dozen repetitions on each leg.  If you are not comfortable standing on one leg with the other in the air, try putting all your weight on one leg and use the toes on the other foot to maintain your balance.  Eventually, you may be able to stand on one leg while lifting the other a few inches off the floor.

Deep knee bends - In order to strengthen your thighs and calves, put your back against the wall and lower your body until you are in a deep knee bend.  Once you are as low as you can safely and comfortably go, lift your heals off the floor as you straighten your legs and stand back up.  Gradually, this will make your legs stronger and they will be better able to hold you up.  Don't overdo it when you start, because your legs will be sore! You also want to be careful not to go too low at first, so you don't slip, or slide down the wall.

Leg lifts - Strengthen you core muscles by laying on the floor with your hands next to your side.  Slowly raise your legs until they point towards the ceiling; then lower them.  This will strengthen your abdomen and help you maintain your balance.  If you cannot do both legs at the same time, do one at a time or bend your legs while lifting them.  That will take some pressure off your lower back.

Rear leg lifts - Get on all fours on the floor.  Stretch one of your legs behind you and lift it a few times.  Switch legs.  This will help strengthen your back muscles, another muscle group which is important for balance.

Stand on your toes - Whenever you are standing around for a few minutes, you can strengthen your legs and improve your balance by doing simple things such as standing on your toes for ten to twenty seconds at a time. Repeat several times a day. Do NOT do this in the shower or on some other slippery surface.  However, it is a great exercise to do while standing in line at the grocery store or waiting for something to heat up in the microwave.  

All of these exercises can be done in a few minutes and should be repeated several times a week.  In this way, you will maintain your strength and reduce your risk of falling.  If you make them part of a regular exercise class or regimen, you are even more likely to stick with them.  Check with your local senior center to see if they offer exercise or balance classes for seniors.  Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, some communities are offering outdoor classes.

Other Ways to Protect Your Brain from Falls
In addition to maintaining your strength, there are also other important ways to protect your brain from falls.  Here are a few reminders:

Do not climb onto chairs, counters or high ladders.  One accident could do irreparable damage to your brain.

Wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, scooter or any similar moving vehicle.  The motion of the vehicle could make it easier for you to lose your balance.

Use a cane or walker if your doctor recommends one.  These devices are designed to prevent falls and keep you moving, even when you are having difficulties with your strength or balance.

Remove rugs, extension cords, or anything else in your home which could cause you to trip and fall.  Put away shoes and packages so they are not sitting where they could cause you to trip.  

Watch where you are going.  It is easy to be distracted when walking your dog or chatting with a friend.  This could cause you to fail to notice a curb, stairs, uneven sidewalk, tree root, or other hazards. Pay attention to what lies ahead as you walk.
You may also want to read a book like "Better Balance for Life: Banish the Fear of Falling with Simple Activities Added to Your Everyday Routine." (Ad) It has many helpful suggestions to reduce your risk of falling.
Remember:  The last thing you want to do is cause your own death or dementia because of a fall.  Being cautious will help keep you safe!

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