Healthbeat

Simple, everyday activities can strengthen balance

If you love tennis, golf, running, dancing, or any number of other sports or activities, working on balance buffs your abilities. Not an athlete? Just walking across the room or down the block requires good balance. So does rising from a chair, going up and down stairs, toting packages, and even turning to look behind you.

And good balance helps prevent potentially disabling falls.

There is a lot you can do to preserve and improve your balance, and it doesn't take special fitness classes or exercises. Incorporating balance and strength activities into your daily routine could be enough to lower your risk of falling.

Researchers in Australia tested a program called Lifestyle Integrated Functional Exercise (LiFE) on a group of 317 people, ages 70 and older, who had fallen in the previous year. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: the LiFE program, a structured exercise and strengthening program, or a control "sham" program of gentle exercises.

Those in the LiFE program incorporated balance and strength movements throughout their day — for example, squatting instead of bending over to close a drawer, or walking sideways while carrying groceries from the car to the house. At the end of one year, the LiFE group had experienced fewer falls than the two other groups – a total of 172 falls, compared with 193 in the structured exercise group and 224 in the control group. People were also more likely to stick with the LiFE program than with the other two programs. To incorporate balance exercises into your daily routine, try standing on one leg while talking on the phone or sitting down in a chair without using your hands.

For more on ways to improve your balance, buy Better Balance, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.