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Easy balance exercises
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Easy balance exercises

Every year, one in three people over 60 has a fall – a painful and sometimes bone-shattering experience that can often be avoided. Poor balance is the most common cause, with many of us feeling less certain on our feet as we grow older. Yet, there’s a remedy – just a few daily exercises which, by boosting strength and flexibility, improve our balance. Balance training teaches your brain how to quickly activate the relevant muscles at the appropriate times, pulling your body in the right direction to keep you upright. However, you won’t work up a sweat practising these moves for about 10 minutes a day – you’re training the brain more than the muscles. To have good balance, it’s important to have strong ankle and leg muscles, good eyesight and a healthy inner ear. Having these work together is essential for staying steady on your feet – for instance, when your eyes need to quickly follow moving objects or your legs have to respond when it seems you may lose your balance. Nearly all exercise that has you on your feet improves balance. Walking and doing side steps, or more advanced exercises such as balancing on one leg all help.

Getting started
Sit on a sturdy chair to enhance the relationship between your joints, muscles and central nervous system (aka the brain). Your shoulders should be back and relaxed, your chin parallel to the ground, back straight, arms relaxed and feet shoulder-width apart. You can also gently and slowly tilt your head from side to side. Doing this while your body is in a safe, stable position is a great way to help train the balance sensors in your ears. If you experience any vertigo, see your doctor – inner ear problems can cause balance disorders. Regular practice of the moves illustrated here will stimulate and improve communication between your body and brain.

Shoulder reach up
Lightly rest your hands on your knees. Sit upright, shoulders relaxed and lowered. Inhale as you slowly raise your arms, with wrists straight, to shoulder height. Exhale as you return them to the starting position. Do 4-6 repetitions.

Shoulder reach out
Start with your arms and hands down by your sides. Inhale as you slowly raise your arms out to the side, with wrists straight, to shoulder height. Exhale as you return them to the starting position. Do 4-6 repetitions.

Blind leg lift
Sit towards the front edge of the chair and hold the sides for additional support. Close your eyes, then using your hips and belly to control the movement, slowly lift one foot about 30cm off the ground. Hold the position for 3-5 seconds, balancing your body square in the seat of the chair. Slowly lower the leg to the floor. Repeat with the other leg. Do 4-6 repetitions. Advanced version: Perform this exercise standing behind the chair. Lightly grip the chair back for stability.

Seated squat
You can use this exercise to strengthen your leg muscles and move more easily into and out of a seated position. Start in a standing position with a sturdy chair directly behind you. Slowly lower your body onto the chair, flexing your knees and hips to control the rate your body sits back onto the chair. Once seated, stand up by stepping one foot slightly underneath the chair. Place your hand on the knee of the opposite leg and lever yourself up with your stepped-back foot. Repeat, alternating your legs. Do 8-10 repetitions.

Not so steady?
If you have particularly poor balance, it is a good idea to see an exercise professional such as a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist to design a specific balance program for your needs.
You can also help prevent falls by removing loose floor rugs and making sure the shower and stairways have handrails. Ask your GP or occupational therapist to do a fall prevention assessment and only exercise when someone is at home with you.