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Balance training can help you avoid falls, stay steady on your feet

People practice tai chi, which is known for helping with balance. (iStock)

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Most people don’t think about their balance until they take a spill. But that’s common: One in 4 adults 65 and older falls each year. Twenty percent of those spills result in serious injury, such as a hip fracture or head injury. The good news? You can reduce your risk of falling with what experts call balance training.

How exercise helps

Balance training is a program of activities designed to improve your response to potential fall hazards, says Evie Burnet, director of the Center for Balance and Aging Studies at William & Mary.

“It’s more complicated than just standing on one leg,” says Debra Rose, director of the Center for Successful Aging at California State University at Fullerton and creator of the FallProof Balance and Mobility Program.

The most effective programs combine activities that directly focus on balance with functional exercises (moves that resemble everyday activities, such as standing up) and strength training, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Your fall protection program

Senior centers may offer balance training, and some YMCAs offer a program called Moving for Better Balance. You can also mix and match a variety of the activities below to build your own routine.

Walking in a zigzag pattern, changing direction frequently, or speeding up and slowing down throughout your walk can improve your balance when combined with regular forward walking, Rose says.

Tai chi reduced the rate of falls by 23 percent, according to an Australian review of 116 studies published in 2020. Rose says its slow, controlled moves require body weight shifting, a key part of balancing.

Dancing, either solo (like Zumba) or with a partner, requires motor and sensory skills. A German study found that weekly dancing improved balance more than typical cardio workouts.

Strength training that includes squats, lunges or standing exercises can help by challenging muscles in your legs, back and abdomen that are important for stability.

Yoga can improve balance for people 60 and older, according to a review of six studies in the journal Age and Ageing. It helps while you’re still and in motion.

Moves you can do anywhere

Aim to do each balance-building exercise two or three times a day.

Around-the-clock: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Imagine a clock face on the floor. Moving from your hips, shift your weight forward to the 12 o’clock position and back to the center. Do the same with the 3, 6 and 9 positions. Progress to add 1, 5, 7 and 11.

Tightrope walking: Practice walking on an imaginary line, placing one foot directly in front of the other but not touching. Keep your eyes forward, looking at a spot in front of you, not down at the floor. Walk along a wall and place a finger or two on it if you feel unsteady.

Going up: Sit on the edge of a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Without using your hands, stand up slightly as if you’re on an elevator going up to the first floor, then sit down. Repeat — going up to the second floor — then rising a little higher each time until you’re standing up.

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