Volume 12, Issue 27
Simple ways to improve your
balance and avoid falls
One of the very real fears many people have as they get older is falling. If you don't believe me just watch the ads on TV. But is there a good way for older folks with balance issues to improve their balance? Some studies have suggested that a Chinese low-level, balance oriented form of exercise called Tai Chi can do that. But a recent study says no.

The researchers searched the literature for any controlled study that looked at this question. They found 34 studies. Then they added up the total results of all the studies to see what the overall effect was. Here's what they found.

Men and women who already had a good sense of balance and were at a low risk of falling improved their balance when practicing the Tai Chi exercises for at least three months. But those who had an impaired sense of balance and were high risk for falling saw no benefit even after as much as six months of training. Here's my take on this important topic.

First of all, it makes no sense at all to wait until you are in the high risk for falling category before working on your balance. It's simple. As you get older, your balance is not going to get better. It's going to get worse. Sorry, but that's just the way it is. So the first thing you should do is to assess your balance. See how long you can stand on one foot with your eyes closed. See how far you can walk in a straight line heel to toe. If you're up to it, go find a curb and walk on it. Ride a bicycle. Skip. Jump rope. If you find that your balance is not what it used to be, it's time to get to work.

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Spend at least 60 minutes a week working on your balance by doing things that require balance. One fun way would be to take up dancing classes, roller skating, bicycling, or other activities that require balance. The main thing is not to take your balance for granted. If you are afraid of falling, I also recommend another exercise that's very simple yet powerful.

Here's all you have to do. Lay on the floor as if you had just fallen. Then get up. Do this every day as many times as you can before you completely tire out. You will not only get a good aerobic workout. You will also be strengthening the very muscles you would need if indeed you ever did fall. And by the way, these are the same muscles that can help prevent falling. But what if your balance is already so bad that you consider yourself a high risk for falling?

First, get some walking sticks. You can get them at any store that caters to hiking or backpacking. Then, using the sticks, start walking for a few miles every day. If you can't go that far, then go as far as you can. The sticks will prevent you from falling. And by using the sticks you can safely start to practice your balance by standing on one foot or walking in a straight line. In addition, about two years ago, I wrote a detailed report on very specific exercises that you can do at home to improve your balance. You can access that report in the archives. Tai Chi won't help your balance problem, but those exercises have been proven to help.

Yours for better health,

Song R, Ahn S, So H, Lee EH, et al. Effects of T'ai Chi on Balance: A Population-Based Meta-Analysis. J Altern Complement Med. 2015 Feb 4.

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