Dear Karen,

I’m 62, and I’ve noticed my balance is getting worse and worse. I’m afraid I’m going to fall and hurt myself. Do you have any tips?

Missy

Hi Missy,

Yes, as we get older our balance does get more challenging. When we’re young, we think nothing of climbing ladders, walking on slippery surfaces or maneuvering hills. That all changes with time!

Having good balance is part of a complex sensory and motor system combination. Vision perceives direction and motion; the inner ear system monitors motion and helps us with orientation, such as which way is up; and proprioception, the ability to feel where we are in space, are all factors. And of course, muscle strength, flexibility and reaction time are required.

All of these are affected with age. And not for the better. When, even one of these aspects is off, even walking or reaching for something can cause a loss of balance. Even the fear of falling, when it hasn’t even happened, can begin a dangerous cycle of inactivity, which of course, just exacerbates the muscle loss and increases the risk for a fall.

Falls are a major cause of fractures and, especially if osteoporosis is thrown in, can become debilitating.

So what to do about it?

First of all, of course, exercise. Moving our bodies helps us understand how to move in any given space. And strength training gives us the ability and strength to control our movements. Balance is a component of every movement we make.

In addition to just moving your body and strength training, some specific balance exercises will help train your brain and all your systems to keep you upright!

With all balance exercises, make sure you’re standing next to something (a chair, table, or counter, for example) to catch yourself if you start to fall. You don’t want to fall while you’re training yourself not to!

• One-foot stand: Stand on one foot and hold for 10-15 seconds, then alternate. Be sure to keep your shoulders, back, and head straight. As this becomes easier, move an object around your body. This will change your center of gravity and cause you to readjust.

• Heel-to-toe walking: Standing straight, walk by placing one foot directly in front of the other. Walk for about 10-15 steps. As with the one-foot stand, increase the difficulty by moving your arms or an object around your body as you move.

• Side-leg raises: Standing straight near a stationary object, lift one leg to the side. Be sure you keep your toes facing forward. This exercise will also strengthen your outer hip. Lift each leg about 10-15 times.

• Heel raises: Stand straight, feet hip-width apart, near a stationary object. Lift both heels off the ground so you’re balancing on the balls of your feet. Lower to the ground gently. Repeat 10-15 times. As this becomes easier, try it with one foot at a time.

No gym is necessary for balance training. Do it in your kitchen, while you’re watching TV or at the office while waiting for the printer. Start now to stay strong and stable no matter your age!

Karen Marcouiller is an Eden Prairie-based certified personal trainer (karenfitnessmn.com)

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