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3 Moves to Boost Balance

Changes to your eyes, ears and muscles as you age can make you less steady on your feet. In fact, as many as 45 percent of otherwise healthy older adults fall each year. Many break a bone or sustain another serious injury.

Fortunately, balance-building exercises protect you from taking a tumble. And even if you do trip or slip, the same routines reduce your risk of hurting yourself, a new research review shows.

You don't have to spend hours practicing your poise. Doing a few specific exercises three days a week can go a long way in preventing falls and injuries. Start by consulting with your doctor or physical therapist, then working these moves into your routine. Once the beginners move feels easy, progress to the advanced level.

Single-Leg Stand
Beginning: Start behind a sturdy chair, holding on for balance. Lift one leg off the floor. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.

Advanced: Try holding on with one hand, then one finger. Eventually, let go of the chair.

Heel-to-Toe Walk
Beginning: Stand near a wall with the heel of one foot just in front of the other toe. Raise your arms to your sides at shoulder height. Step forward, continuing to place your heel directly in front of your toe. Continue for 20 steps, touching the wall for support if you need.

Advanced: Once you're steady, move farther away from the wall. Or, try walking with your eyes closed. 

Balance Walk
Beginning: Stand tall and raise your arms to your sides at shoulder height. Focus on a spot ahead of you and walk in a straight line toward that spot. With each step, as you bring your back leg forward, hold it in the air for one second before stepping forward.  Travel 20 paces as you do this.

Advanced: Look from side to side as you walk. However, stay at the beginning level if you have inner-ear problems.

"While performing any of these exercises, remember to practice controlled breathing and always move within your physical limits," said Tina Emert Bortner, BA, ACE, Lourdes Health System community health educator and worksite wellness coordinator. "Maintaining proper form also is essential to avoid injury."

Many senior or community centers also offer group balance-training sessions. Or, look for a t'ai chi class. This ancient Chinese martial art form also improves balance, research shows.  

Lourdes Wellness Services offers classes that can help improve your balance, boost your confidence and maintain your independence. Visit www.lourdeswellnesscenter.org for a full listing.

Last reviewed: July 2014

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Yoga in the Park
Join Lourdes Wellness Services instructor Michelle Carlino for Yoga in the Park, Sundays through August 24 from 8 to 9 a.m. at Croft Farm in Cherry Hill. This free outdoor class is perfect for all yoga levels. Bring your yoga mat and water. In case of rain, the class is held indoors. To register, call 856-488-7868.