LIVE LONG, LIVE WELL: Simple steps to better balance

By Jodi Cornelio

Balance is something we all need to work at and keep finely tuned. That old saying — “Use it or lose it.” — certainly holds true when it comes to balance, especially as we age. Maintaining our balance is particularly important in our senior years because trips and falls can lead to major setbacks, such as resulting in a broken hip, arm or other injury.

Many things can interfere with balance, like loss of vision, loss of hearing and the use of new medications. Make sure you and your doctor are aware of your situation and discuss the following methods and exercises, which can help you with balance throughout your life and in your senior years.
* Get appropriate amounts of vitamin D. This helps with strong bones in the event of a fall and also helps prevent sore muscles and improves mental awareness. Now that the days are longer and spring is around the corner you can get appropriates amounts of vitamin D from 30 minutes a day in the sun. Otherwise, 600 IU to 800 IU of vitamin D supplementation is sufficient. Foods such as salmon and sardines have great sources of vitamin D as well.
* Weight bearing exercises help keep muscles and bones strong. We always need to challenge our muscles and bones as they will help with balance. The surgeon general rated the best exercises for strength and bone health as follows: Fast walking/jogging, jumping rope, stair climbing, dancing, basketball, volleyball, tennis, skiing, skating, soccer, hiking, weight training and rowing.
* For balance the following exercises are the best — Tai Chi and yoga. If you can find a local class or video, try these options. Only 30 minutes a day will help with your balance. For the best results, try 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon.
* If you are unable or unwilling to join a Tai Chi or yoga class, there are many things you can do in the privacy of your own home. Try some of the following every day several times a day:
* Walking on tippy toes. This strengthens your legs and help with balance.
* Walk the line. You’ve seen on TV folks being arrested for OUI. The police officer has the individual touch their nose as they walk heel-to-toe in a straight line. Try it. It’s not easy, even if you’re sober. You will want to pretend you are walking on a balancing beam and heel-to-toe walk in a straight line. Make sure you are close to a wall or the dining room table so that you can grab it if you feel like you are going to tip over. Do this for three minutes, several times a day.
* Practice breathing. What does breathing have to do with balance? A lot. Breathing properly strengthens your body’s core muscles and the core of your body helps control balance. Let’s practice. Slowly breathe in a big breath through your nose and, as you exhale, suck your stomach in and blow it all out. That’s proper breathing and should be done all day long. Nobody benefits from shallow breathers.
* Weight shifting is my favorite for balance. Hold onto a stable structure like a chair, table, the wall or a counter top. Put all your weight on your left leg and take your right foot off the floor. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Don’t forget that breathing exercise; when you lift your foot off the floor you should be exhaling and sucking your belly in. Do this a lot throughout the day until eventually you can let go of the wall. Challenge yourself but always have that safety net of the wall or chair close by.
Live long, live well.