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Balance Exercises Help To Reduce Risk of Falling
For older patients, it generally is thought that rigorous walking and resistance training can improve gait and balance and reduce the risk of falls, which contribute to more fatalities in adults older than 70 than breast, colon and lung cancers combined. However, a recent report published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society seriously questioned walking as the best prescription to prevent falls.
In this study, researchers from Australia examined the link between specific forms of exercise and risk of falls. Surprisingly, they found that exercise programs that focused on brisk walking had no effect on reducing the total number of falls. If anything, risk of falling increased modestly as a result of the tripping or loss of balance that might occur by walking outside or on a treadmill.
On the other hand, they did find that balancing exercises were highly effective in reducing the number of falls and should be integrated into a weekly exercise routine. The most effective balancing exercises must be challenging, such as those in which you sway from side to side while standing with legs together or standing on one leg for as long as possible.
In general, balance exercises are quite simple and should be done daily by everyone older than 60 and individuals who have any conditions that can lead to muscle weakness or walking difficulties. If you are computer-literate (everyone should be, and if you aren't, a New Year's resolution should be a commitment to learn), the National Institutes of Health have a Web site (www.NIHSeniorHealth.gov) that includes an excellent section on exercises for older adults.
The simplest balance exercise is to stand next to a table or chair, hold on gently with the tips of your fingers, and lift one leg for 10 seconds. Raise each leg a total of five times. Once this can be done easily, try standing on one leg without holding on to a chair. Finally, try to raise one leg with your eyes closed. A good way to monitor progress is to see how long you can stand on one leg while maintaining balance.
Other excellent balance exercises include attempting to stand from the sitting position without using your hands, walking 10 feet by moving one foot directly in front of the other while keeping the heel of one foot in contact with the toe of the foot behind it. You also may wish to try holding your arms out so they're perpendicular to your body while you lean forward and backward. If you have serious balance problems, do these exercises under the supervision of a friend or loved one who can offer a steadying hand should you be at risk of falling.
Dancing is also a truly outstanding form of exercise. It improves fine motor control and balance while increasing the heart rate. Combined with socializing, romance and fun, dancing can be one of the best activities for adults of all ages. Tai chi is another excellent choice to improve balance. In tai chi, you follow a series of slow, graceful movements of the arms and legs that lead to flowing changes in posture. Numerous studies have shown that tai chi helps to improve balance and prevent falls in older adults.
Balancing exercises should be a core component of any exercise plan. But remember, your body needs comprehensive exercises to promote overall health. Everyone should find some outlet for aerobic exercise, which improves endurance and quality of life, reduces the risk of heart and lung diseases, and prolongs life. In addition, you must strength train actively to counteract the natural tendency to lose muscle and accumulate fat as you age. Without interventions, the process of losing muscle contributes to declines in strength, impairs gait and balance, reduces metabolism, and leads to a condition called insulin resistance, which can cause diabetes. Exercising with weights must be a component of your exercise plan. It can increase strength and muscle mass dramatically, make aerobic exercise easier, and also improve your mood.
No matter your age, exercise is vitally important to your health. It's not about weight loss or body image. Exercise actually improves the quantity and quality of life.
Dr. David Lipschitz is the author of the book "Breaking the Rules of Aging." To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. More information is available at www.drdavidhealth.com.
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