Health, Lifestyle, News

Strengthen your body to increase your balance and prevent falls

by Kate Evans

In winter as inclement weather sets in, it’s even more important to deliberately stay physically active and healthy. Strengthening our bodies and working on balance and flexibility can improve health, prevent falls and reduce injuries.

Strength training

Strength training or resistance training includes exercises that improve strength and endurance. Often it involves lifting weights or using resistance bands.

Strength training can increase muscle and tendon strength, bone density and metabolism and improve joint and cardiovascular health. It can reduce the risk of injury in the elderly and in athletes. Older people can prevent some muscle loss that happens with aging and regain some strength with weight training.

Trainers recommend three sessions of light strength training exercises each week. Home-based exercises usually consist of weight lifting (3 to 5 pounds to start) or elastic band exercises.

Upper body exercises can include biceps curls, chest presses, shoulder routines and triceps and back exercises – all using dumbbells. Lower body workouts include squats and lunges with dumbbells.

Warming up your body before doing more strenuous exercises is always a good idea. Neck rolls, toe touches, arm raises, arm, wrist and foot circles, waist twists, side bends and other stretches are important to do first.

Balance exercises

Improving balance makes daily activities like climbing stairs and carrying weighty items easier. Having your body strong in its base will give you more fluid movement and coordination. It will improve your health and fitness levels and help lower the risks of falls and injury.

Balance exercises can include yoga positions such as the Tree, the Mountain Pose and the Stork, which require balancing on one leg. The Rooster pose involves standing on your toes with your eyes shut.

Other balance exercises are a one-legged stand, bean bag balance, standing march, sit to stand and stand to sit, sideways walking, heel to toe walk and tightrope walking on a string on the carpet. Core and modified exercises

Core-strengthening exercises strengthen the body’s core muscles that include abdominal muscles, back muscles and pelvic area muscles.

Good exercises that strengthen your core are single-leg and double-leg abdominal presses, modified, regular and side planks, abdominal crunches, the bird dog, leg raises and the Superman pose.

Many exercises can also be done in a seated or modified position. They include bicep curls, shoulder press, triceps extensions with weights and modified push-ups, planks, seated tummy twists with a medicine ball, seated calf raises and squats using a chair for balance.

Tai chi

Tai chi began as an ancient martial art in China. Tai chi involves a series of slow gentle movements and physical postures, a meditative state and controlled breathing. It is now more connected to health, balance, mobility and rehabilitation.

Studies have shown that tai chi may reduce the rate of falls by around 20%. Practicing other balance exercises like rising from a chair, stepping up or rotating while standing could reduce the rate of falls by 24%, according to National Institute of Health (NIH) research.

Tai chi was also found to be beneficial in lowering fasting blood glucose, insulin resistance, body mass index and total cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes.

Isometric exercise

Isometric exercise is any form of exercise that holds the body in one position with no muscle or joint movement. Isometric exercises are an excellent way to build muscle endurance.

Some positions to try are the chair sit, the plank, isometric squats, calf raises, wall sits and glute bridges. Some studies show that isometric exercise can help lower back pain, knee osteoarthritis and neck pain and may also lower blood pressure.

Line dancing

Line dancing can be a fun way to work on your balance, flexibility and coordination. A line dance is a choreographed dance with a repeating sequence of steps while in lines or rows.

Each line dance is usually connected to a specific song. Most videos will go over the main steps several times before they put the whole dance together.

Dancing improves physical, mental and emotional health along with cardiovascular and brain function.

Walking and yoga

Walking is considered to be the best exercise by many. It involves no equipment – just a desire to get moving. Fitness experts recommend 20-30 minutes of walking 4- 5 days a week. If the weather is inclement, there are 10-30 minute indoor walking videos with Denise Austin, Kathy Smith, Leslie Sansone and others. Or you can work out on a treadmill.

Yoga is an ancient and calming form of exercise that benefits the lungs and cardiovascular system with increased oxygen and blood flow. It also enhances energy, decreases stress and improves balance, coordination and well-being. Yoga focuses heavily on balance and stretching.

Fitness videos

There are also many fitness videos and websites to choose from. A mother and daughter fitness team-certified personal trainer April Hattori and her 81-year-old mom Aiko have a wide variety of enjoyable fitness videos for all ages and abilities on their website yes2next.

Go surfing online and find yourself some fun line dancing or some inspiring tai chi, yoga or fitness videos to try. Whatever your exercise preference or interest, continuing to move with keep you moving ahead into health.