I’m unsteady and scared of falling

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I’m a woman in my sev­en­ties and have noticed that my bal­ance is some­times bad. I’m afraid that I’ll have a fall. Is there any­thing I can do to improve my bal­ance?

Yes, plenty. But for peace of mind you should try to work out why your bal­ance has worsened, and elim­in­ate pos­sible under­ly­ing med­ical causes (espe­cially if you are get­ting dizzy turns). Something as simple as an ear infec­tion could be respons­ible. If you are tak­ing sev­eral med­ic­a­tions a day, their com­bined effect may be upset­ting you. Have you recently star­ted some new pills? And are you look­ing after your eye­sight prop­erly? Pay the GP and the opti­cian an early visit.

The good news is that poor bal­ance is not an inev­it­able con­sequence of get­ting older. While our nervous sys­tems (and hence our speed of reac­tion) do slow down, we can sharpen them up by chal­len­ging brain and body with men­tal and phys­ical activ­ity. Good bal­ance not only needs men­tal alert­ness, though, but also strength, good pos­ture and self-​confidence. It’s scary but true that if you believe you are going to fall over and hurt your­self, it is more likely to hap­pen – so you need to take some action now!

What kinds of exer­cises will help? By all means, prac­tise stand­ing on one leg at a time (use a chair back or win­dow ledge to give you some touch sup­port until you gain con­fid­ence). Practise stand­ing for up to a minute on each leg.

You also need to prac­tise bal­ance and pos­ture con­trol while you are on the move. Many of us grow into sloppy walk­ing habits, per­haps drag­ging our feet along, stoop­ing for­wards with head down and shoulders hunched, or tak­ing tiny shuff­ling steps. By con­trast, good walk­ing tech­nique means walk­ing tall, and tak­ing long, con­fid­ent strides, using a “heel-​toe” action.

Practise also, repeatedly step­ping up one stair, turn­ing and step­ping down again, until you can do this effi­ciently – even without hold­ing on. Practise stand­ing up sev­eral times a day from a kit­chen chair and sit­ting SLOWLy back down again without using your arms: this helps build your leg strength. Rising up on your toes and back again 20 times is another great daily leg exer­cise.

Why not join a com­munity class? Your health centre or local coun­cil can point you to seni­ors fit­ness classes. Before you take part, ask the instructor if the class cov­ers pos­ture, strength and dynamic bal­ance. And while you’re at it, check with the centre or the gym that the instructor is prop­erly qual­i­fied to teach older people.

Finally, I strongly recom­mend you try Tai Chi. This gor­geously slow, fluid move­ment dis­cip­line has been proven to bene­fit older people’s bal­ance, and there are many classes suit­able for seni­ors. Give it six weeks – and you may find not only that you’ve improved your bal­ance but have acquired a whole new pas­sion in life!

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