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Published on January 08, 2014

A Balancing Act

January 8, 2014

Senior couple balancing on one legMaintaining your balance is a complicated process. You must sense where your body is in space and constantly make small, unconscious muscle movements to keep your weight distributed evenly on your feet. You may not be aware that your ability to balance has declined – until suddenly, you fall.

As people age, changes to vision and structures inside the ear, muscular weakness, and loss of flexibility leave many feeling unsteady on their feet. Exercise can help, but if you already feel uncertain of your footing, even a simple workout can become tricky or downright frightening.

Whether you have balance problems due to a medical condition such as arthritis or stroke or simply as a result of loss of conditioning, yoga and Tai Chi are two gentle forms of exercise that can help you regain your balance and your confidence.

Go for Yoga

Through regular practice, yoga helps improve balance by building muscle strength, increasing endurance, improving flexibility, and boosting body awareness. A recent study of older veterans who had suffered strokes showed yoga increased lower-body flexibility, significantly increased standing balance, and reduced fear of falling.

If you are new to yoga, you may find the pretzel-like postures and one-footed stances of advanced practitioners intimidating. But yoga comes in many forms, some performed sitting down, so just about anyone can participate.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi involves making smooth, coordinated movements while slowly shifting body weight and moving muscles consciously and gracefully. It builds lower body strength, improves range of motion, and increases flexibility in the knees and ankles, all of which help stabilize the body.

Studies indicate Tai Chi helps people control body sway, thus improving balance while standing and walking. Moreover, the positive effects of Tai Chi are long lasting.

Yoga, Senior Yoga, and Senior Fitness classes and Fall Prevention programs are available throughout the year at KishHealth System Physical Therapy Centers. For more information or to register, please call 815.748.8900, or visit kishhealth.org.

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