Each year, more than 800,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized because of a fall injury. A fall is often the event that moves someone from independent living into assisted or dependent care.
Creating a safe environment at home and at work is key in preventing falls. Removing trip and fall hazards like throw rugs, and clearing walkways of furniture, decorations, and electrical cords will make falls less likely. Installing and using handrails is another way to protect against falling.
Though changing our environment is important, we are not always at home or at work. Improving our personal balance is the most important safety factor in preventing a dangerous fall. More than 2,300 Edgar Cayce readings discuss the concept of balance and point out that good balance—in body, mind, and spirit—is key to preventing falls, whether the fall be physical, emotional, or spiritual.
The body should be mindful of the physical forces of the body, that the body may keep a well-rounded, even balance.
-- Edgar Cayce reading 257-60
Our amazing bodies maintain balance through constant communication among our brains, our inner ears, our eyes, and our muscles. Aging can bring decreased muscle strength, decreased visual acuity, and decreased ability to react quickly to stimuli. Many common medications for hypertension, depression, allergies, sleep problems, etc., can negatively affect our balance. Alcohol and recreational drugs also cause balance impairment.
Fortunately, research has shown that people of any age can improve their strength and balance. Simple exercises, like those mentioned in the Cayce readings and those outlined below, are excellent practices to keep us physically balanced, upright and steady.
Please try these exercises first while holding onto a sturdy piece of furniture or a counter. To challenge yourself you can try letting go and/or closing your eyes. Please check with your doctor before attempting these exercises if you have balance issues.
- Tracking the thumb using eyes only – hold either thumb 18 inches away from your face and move your thumb up, down, left, and right, while tracking the thumb with your eyes only.
- Tracking the thumb using eyes and head – fully extend either arm at nose level and track the thumb with your eyes and head moving as you move it up, down, left, and right.
- One leg balance – from a standing position, bend one knee and hold the one-leg stand for at least 5 seconds. Return to two legs, then repeat with the other leg.
- Extending the leg and arm – from a standing position, raise one leg from the hip while extending the same side arm at 90 degrees from the shoulder. Repeat using the other side.
- Tiptoe and heel stands – balance on tiptoe for at least 5 seconds, then balance on heels at least 5 seconds.
- Heel to toe walking the line – start from a standing position and walk a straight line touching the foot down from heel to toe.
- Swaying torso in circles – standing tall, try to keep the hips still while moving in clockwise and counterclockwise circles at the waist.
- Marching with knees raised – start from a standing position and march with raised knees across a room.
- Grapevine – move laterally across a level floor by crossing the left foot in front of the right then crossing the left foot behind the right. Repeat the movement switching to the right foot.
- Read as you walk – first making sure the path is clear, hold at eye level a piece of paper with sentences written on it.
While walking forward, read the sentences out loud and move the paper from side to side.
Practicing these exercises will help to develop and maintain your balance!