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8 tips to improve your balance and prevent falls: each year, one in three seniors falls--often with dire consequences. Follow these tips to stay on your feet and prevent possible injury.

Do you often feel off balance, as if you are walking on unsteady ground? Balance problems can lead to falls, which are a significant cause of injury, loss of independence, and even death, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As you age, changes in vision, hearing, muscle strength, coordination, and reflexes can make you lose your balance. In addition, some health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, circulation problems, and even medications can affect equilibrium.

"If you find that you often lose your balance, walk to one side, widen your legs when you walk to remain steady, or if you feel dizzy upon waking in the morning, seek care from a health professional," says Philip J. Melchiorre, MD, assistant professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "If you need a cane or walker, don't be embarrassed to use it. Do what you can today to prevent problems down the road."

Take these steps to improve your balance and reduce your risk of falling:

1. Assess your meds. Review all your medications (prescription, over-the-counter, and dietary supplements) with your doctor, because dizziness can be a side effect of some medications, either when taken alone or in combination. Your doctor can determine whether you could benefit from a lower dose, a different drug, or a reduction in your total number of medications.

2. Exercise. By engaging in regular physical activity, you can increase lower-body strength and improve balance. Exercises that may help to improve balance include tai chi, yoga, Pilates, and stretching and dance classes. If you don't have access to a fitness class, try these balance exercises: walk heel-to-toe across the room, stand on one foot for 30 seconds or longer, or get up from a chair and sit back down 8-15 times.

3. Strength train. Strength training with weights or resistance bands can help balance by improving muscle tone and bone strength.

4. Manage chronic conditions. Studies have shown that chronic illnesses, such as Parkinson's disease, stroke, arthritis, and low blood pressure can increase a person's chance of falling. If you suffer from a chronic condition that may affect your balance, be sure to see your doctor regularly for treatment.

5. Avoid falling hazards. Most falls occur in and around the home. Make your living areas safer by removing tripping hazards, such as throw rugs and clutter in walkways. Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors, and install grab bars next to the toilet and in the tub and shower. Put hand rails on both sides of the stairs, keep your home well lit, and make sure your furniture is stable. Wear low-heeled shoes with good support and thin, non-slip soles.

6. See your eye doctor. Poor sight and cataracts are major contributors to falls. Get your eyes examined at least once a year.

7. Get checked for a balance disorder. Poor balance is often the result of an undiagnosed medical problem, such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (the displacement of small calcium stones in the inner ear), labyrinthitis (an infection or inflammation of the inner ear), and peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nerves that carry information between the brain and spinal cord, and the rest of the body).

8. Modify your diet. Strong bones can be a lifesaver if you fall. Make sure you get plenty of calcium (1,200 mg daily) and vitamin D (800 IU daily) in your diet to maintain healthy bones. Talk to your doctor about adding vitamin B12, which can affect neurological sensation.
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Title Annotation:STAYING BALANCED; balancing feet
Publication:Focus on Healthy Aging
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2007
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