When you think of balance, you might think of balancing your commitments, juggling responsibilities or maintaining a work-life balance. Most adults don’t prioritize their physical balance until a serious health event occurs or after they have already experienced a fall.
As we age, our bodies begin to lose some of the protective mechanisms that exist to help us maintain our balance. The fat pads on our feet can start to deteriorate, making it more difficult to stay upright. Vestibular problems can develop in the ear, causing dizziness and vertigo, which can make it feel like the room is constantly spinning. Health conditions can also impact balance. For example, type 2 diabetes can lead to neuropathy, or numbness, in the feet and toes, reducing our control over our feet.
There are steps you can take steps toward reducing some of these bodily changes by participating in certain exercises and making lifestyle changes. For example, strengthening your leg and core muscles, improving your flexibility and maintaining the range of motion in your joints can all contribute to reducing your risk of falls.
In honor of Falls Prevention Awareness Day, Sept. 23, 2019, Teri Elkins, health and wellness coordinator at Sun Health offers eight tips to help improve your balance and reduce your risk of falling:
1. In-home exercise
Ask your health care professional which exercises he or she recommends. They might recommend activities such as standing on one leg for 30 seconds at a time, doing squats while holding onto a countertop or balance bar or doing heel-to-toe steps on the ground that emulate a tightrope walk.
2. Fitness practices
Certain fitness practices like tai chi, yoga, and qi gong (pronounced CHEE-gung) have been shown to promote balance for people of all ages. These exercises combine the physical factors that you need to be able to stay upright by improving your flexibility, strength and muscle tone, range of motion and reflexes, all of which tend to weaken with age. They are also low impact, meaning that you can do these practices regardless of whether you have certain medical conditions, though you should always consult with your doctor before you start any new physical activity.
3. Prioritize your vision
Vision tends to decline with age, and if you can’t see very well, it will be harder for you to avoid obstacles on the floor or in your general surroundings, making it easier to trip and fall. Make sure you are visiting your optometrist for a check-up once a year and ensure you have the proper prescription for your glasses or contact lenses.
4. Reduce floor traffic
A typical home can contain many obstacles putting you at risk of falling. Consider removing loose throw rugs and any household clutter from major walkways to avoid tripping. You can also secure rugs with double-sided duct tape or add a slip-resistant backing to the rug. Be cautious of loose cords and loose carpeting and tuck those away if possible. If you have small pets that often walk under your feet, you can try adding bells to their collars so that you can hear when they’re nearby.
5. Light up your space
Keep your home brightly lit to further avoid tripping on floor obstacles. Consider adding motion-activated nightlights to hallways, bathrooms and the kitchen. Keep a lamp within reach of your bed for easy access in the middle of the night. Traditional switches can even be swapped for glow-in-the-dark switches to make it easier to find them in the dark. Make sure any stairs in your home are well-lit by using battery-powered lights at evenly spaced intervals along the stairway.
6. Save your sole
The shoes you wear matter more than you might think. Making sure the soles of your shoes are in-tact and slip-resistant can mean the difference between a close call and a slip and fall. Slip-resistant shoes work by using special designs and rubber to keep the sole firmly on the ground. Because you can’t always prevent slippery floors, making sure you’re prepared with shoes that will keep you steady will allow you to walk in confidence.
7. Reduce your reach
Reaching for items in cabinets and other tough-to-reach areas in the kitchen and bathroom can put you at risk of falling. Some experts recommend reorganizing your cupboards so the things you use regularly are at eye level, reducing the amount you need to reach. Instead of climbing or straining to reach items on the top shelf, get a sturdy step stool or ask for help from another person. You could also invest in a grabbing tool to reach items that are just out-of-reach.
8. Shower with safety
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 230,000 people are injured in the bathroom each year. With water and slippery surfaces, the shower in particular can be a risky place for slips and falls. Try installing reinforced grab bars in and around your shower and using slip-resistant mats and rugs to prevent falls when stepping in and out of the shower. If standing for a long period of time makes you dizzy, try using a shower chair or consider installing an accessible walk-in shower with a built-in seat if you don’t have one already.
Take action against falls before they happen!
Teri Elkins, MPH, CHES is a Certified Health Education Specialist, ACE-Certified Health Coach and the Health and Wellness Coordinator for Sun Health Wellness in Surprise. For more information visit sunhealthwellness.org.