6 Simple Ways to Improve Your Balance After 50
It wasn’t the first time I fell, but, as I lay there in the rain, on a quiet Paris street, I vowed that it would be the last time! Several years have passed since my last fall and I don’t know whether I really will make it through my entire life without another. But, I am definitely going to do my best!
In the aftermath of my “Paris incident,” I decided to find out as much as I could about falls among people my age – how they happened and, more importantly, how to prevent them. What I found surprised me!
Falls Are Much More Common (and More Serious) Thank You Think
You might think that falls are just an inconvenience, but, they can actually be deadly. According to the CDC, in the U.S. alone, every 19 minutes an older adult dies from a fall. In addition, over 800,000 people are hospitalized for fall-related injuries each year.
Personally, I am determined not to be a statistic! Are You?
Good Balance is Not Just About Avoiding Injuries
One thing that I learned by starting Sixty and Me, one of the largest communities of older adults on the planet, is that older adults are redefining aging. We are no longer comfortable with the idea of “aging gracefully.” We want to get out into the world. We want to explore, dance, learn and live. But, we can’t do this if we are living in fear of falls.
Since my fall in Paris, all those years ago, I have taken tangible steps to improve my balance. I have used many of the techniques listed below to get back on my feet again and, hopefully, to stay on them!
So, now, I would like to offer a few simple ways that you can improve your balance.
Try Gentle Yoga for Balance
Most of us understand that, when it comes to our bodies, “Use it or lose it” is at play. We understand that the best way to improve our balance is to exercise, walk, hike, dance and run.
Unfortunately, telling someone who doesn’t feel stable on their feet to join an aerobics class is a little bit like asking a child who is afraid of knives to take a sword-fighting class. It’s just too much!
This is one of the reasons that, when I decided to improve my balance, I turned to gentle yoga. It was a fantastic “gateway activity” for me because it allowed me to improve my balance in a safe environment.
In fact, I was so impressed by the results that I saw from my own gentle yoga practice that I decided to work with Cat Kabira to create a series of gentle yoga balance DVDs just for people over 50. These videos will be available very soon!
Regardless of whether you decide to start your yoga practice with Cat or someone else, I hope that you give gentle yoga a shot. It has changed my life and it can almost certainly change yours too.
Consider Tai Chi
An alternative to gentle yoga that can also help you to improve your balance is Tai Chi. I don’t have as much direct experience with this ancient and beautiful practice, but, I have been told by dozens of women in the Sixty and Me community that it changed their lives.
Invest in a Good Pair of Walking Shoes
To say that the shoes that I was wearing when I fell in Paris were “impractical” would be an understatement. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking trying to navigate the cobbled streets of Paris in the rain, wearing heels!
The moment I got home, I went on a search for a good pair of walking shoes. For serious walking, especially off the beaten path, I like New Balance sneakers. The padding in their soles is just amazing!
Comfy sneakers may be grippy, but, they are not always the most fashionable option, especially if you are going out to dinner or joining a cruise. So, for slightly fancier shoes with good grip and plenty of support, I usually go with Clarks Flats, or something similar from another brand.
Practice Standing on One Leg – With a Chair, if Necessary
One of the small exercises that I have added to my daily routine is standing on one leg. I know that this seems like such a small thing, but, it really helps. That said, I have a few tips for standing on one leg safely, based on my own experience.
First, don’t feel like you need to raise your leg all the way. In sports pictures, you always see people stretching by pulling their heel all the way up to their but, while gripping their foot with their hand. This may be great for stretching, but, it’s not necessary when you are gently working on your balance. Just lifting your foot a few inches from the ground is a great way to start.
Second, don’t be embarrassed to use a chair for support. This is your time, so, use whatever props you need to feel comfortable and safe. The most important thing is finding a routine that you can actually stick with every day!
Who knows… you may have so much fun that you decide to try chair yoga!
Take Dancing Lessons
Improving your balance doesn’t have to be boring. It can actually be a social experience.
If you are married, ballroom dancing can be a great way to spice up your life. If you’re single… even more so!
It doesn’t really matter what kind of dancing you do. Tango, ballroom, ballet – they will all help you to reconnect with your body and improve your balance.
Personally, for balance specifically, I like the idea of partner dancing because it gives you a little extra support. Regardless of whether you know your partner or not, there is a sense that you are “in this together.”
Bonus: Build Your Muscles
While there are several things that you can do to improve your balance directly, don’t neglect your overall health and fitness. For example, spending 3-4 days a week at the gym, doing a variety of exercises, will increase your strength, cardiovascular health and, most importantly, confidence.
When you exercise, you feel more solid in your body. And, when you feel more stable, you will be more likely to engage in the activities that will help you to improve your balance every day.
Do you feel like you need to improve your overall balance? Why or why not? What exercises or activities do you do on a regular basis to improve your balance? Please join the conversation!