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Easy ways to boost your balance and help prevent falls
Working on your balance and making some simple changes in your home can keep you from getting injured. Here’s what you need to know.
Tripping on a curb. Stumbling over a pile of laundry on the floor. Anyone can trip and take a minor tumble. But for adults ages 65 and over, falls are a particularly serious health risk. Each year, about 3 million older adults go to the emergency room after a fall. And one in five falls cause injury, such as broken bones or a head injury.1
But there’s good news: You can lower your risk of falling as you age. Exercises to boost your leg strength and your balance can help you stay steady on your feet.1 And simple fall-proofing steps can make your home safer.
Balance exercises can give you flexibility in your joints, says Nancy Swayze, MD. She is the chief of skilled nursing facilities in geriatrics for the Reliant Medical Group in Worcester, Massachusetts. That can help you get your balance back before you fall down.
Here are Dr. Swayze’s top tips for improving your balance and making your home as safe from falls as possible.
Try these 4 balance exercises
Maybe you are on the move all the time. Or maybe you’re just getting started with moving more. Either way, these exercises from Dr. Swayze can help keep you steady on your feet. And you might need them when you least expect it.
Move #1: Toe stand
Building up your calf muscles will help you keep your balance when you’re standing up. Follow these steps:
- Stand up and hold onto a chair or counter for support.
- Keep your back straight. Bend your knees slightly and push on up to your tiptoes.
- Slowly lower your heels to the floor. Repeat 10 to 15 times.2
Move #2: Ankle pump
This move is simple but helpful. “An ankle pump is a point and flex,” says Dr. Swayze. It strengthens your ankles and shins, which can help you keep your balance. Follow these steps:
- Sit upright in a chair.
- Lift your right foot a few inches off the floor and straighten it. Then point and flex your foot. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
- Repeat with your left foot.
Move #3: Standing on one foot
Get comfortable standing on one foot to help prevent a fall. “It gives your body the flexibility to be reactive,” says Dr. Swayze. Try this exercise:
- Hold onto something stable. That could be a kitchen counter or the back of a sturdy chair.
- Lift your right heel behind you, bending your knee. You should be standing on one foot.
- Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times. Then repeat with your left leg.
Marching in place is another good way to get comfortable on one leg.
Move #4: Belly breathing
Deep breathing can boost your balance. It helps you stay centered, says Dr. Swayze. Here’s what to do:
- Put your hands on your belly.
- Breathe in toward your belly. Let the air make your belly big.
- Breathe out. Use your belly to push out all the air.
- Gently let your hand help push the air out of your belly. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Dr. Swayze says belly breathing is especially helpful if you have back trouble.
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Tips for fall prevention at home
You can use these tips to make your home a safe, fall-proof space.3
Clean up clutter on the floor: Do you have to walk around furniture as you move from room to room? Are there piles of books or magazines on the floor? Or clothes stacked on your staircase? It’s a good idea to clear away anything you can trip over.3
Remove throw rugs: Small rugs are big tripping hazards. You can catch your toe on the edge of an area rug and lose your balance. Or a small rug in the kitchen or bathroom can slip when you step on it, causing you to fall. “Those tend to move on people, despite the grips on the bottom,” says Dr. Swayze.
Tame your wires: Make your floor safer by getting your devices’ wires and extension cords out of the way. This way you won’t trip on them.4
Make sure your home is well lit: You need a clear, well-lit path to get from room to room.4 Replace burned-out light bulbs. If stairwells are not well lit, hire an electrician to install overhead lighting. Do you get out of bed to use the bathroom at night? Be sure you’ve got nightlights so you can see the path easily.
Install grab bars: These are important in your shower and near the toilet. Use a nonslip mat inside your shower too.3
Check handrails on staircases: Make sure they are secure. If an indoor or outdoor stair doesn’t have a railing, have one installed.3
Wear sturdy shoes: That goes for slippers, too, says Dr. Swayze. “If they aren’t secure on the heel, the slipper slips and you can lose your footing.”
Finally, it’s a good idea to get your eyes and ears checked on a regular basis.5 “Good vision and hearing are important for balance,” says Dr. Swayze. Talk to your doctor about other steps you can take to cut the risk of falling.
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts about falls. Last reviewed August 6, 2021. Accessed April 24, 2023.
- National Institutes of Health. Exercises to help prevent falls. Reviewed May 2022. Accessed April 18, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Keep on your feet — preventing older adult falls. Last reviewed March 24, 2023. Accessed April 19, 2023.
- National Institutes of Health. Preventing falls. Reviewed April 17, 2022. Article accessed April 19, 2023.
- Health In Aging. Falls prevention care and treatment. Last updated January 2023. Article accessed April 14, 2023.
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Consult your doctor prior to beginning an exercise program or making changes to your lifestyle or health care routine.
Stock photo. Posed by model.