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According to a report from the CDC, falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries to older adults in the U.S. In 2017, more than 3 million adults aged 60 to 85 went to the hospital to be treated for a fall. That's an alarming statistic.

Falls can be caused by many things, including loss of muscle strength, loss of your "kinesthetic sense" (that's the awareness of where your body is in space), and numbness in peripheral nerves like those in hands and especially feet, which can result from type 2 diabetes. Purely commonsense factors often play a part in falls as well: Do you have loose area rugs in your home? How about small footstools, or stacks of newspapers lying around? Getting rid of clutter is job one!

Obviously, it's best to prevent a fall whenever possible. Besides fall-proofing your home, you can help prevent falls by improving your balance and by strengthening your leg and back muscles so that you stand straighter and stronger. You'll probably find that standing straight helps you breathe better, too, giving you more energy.

Falls can be prevented by strengthening your core muscles, which also helps with posture and strength. Your core is what holds your vital organs in, and tightening your core takes pressure off your lower back, too.

Some exercise programs, such as tai chi and yoga, naturally include movements that strengthen the long muscles of your back and legs, help you isolate your core muscles, and help you improve balance in the bargain.

Tai chi is a meditative martial art with its roots in China. It has been shown to promote balance, strength, and feelings of well-being in senior populations. Many people may be more familiar with yoga, whose positions such as tree pose or downward dog are commonly seen in exercise classes. Yoga has a reputation for being rather strenuous; however, gentler programs do exist that provide the same balance and strengthening benefits using modified poses.

Whatever program you choose, the important thing is to do it consistently. If you haven't yet added a tai chi or yoga workout into your daily routine, consider these suggestions for working a few moves into your daily activities: Before you pull your chair out from the dining table, hold on to the back of the chair and just stand on one foot for a few seconds – that strengthens your core muscles and boosts your balance quotient. Repeat on the other side. Or try some Toe Taps, one of several exercises highlighted as useful for maintaining balance in a recent AARP magazine article: Stand with one hand on a chair or wall to keep you stable. Keeping both legs straight, lift one leg and point your toes, then touch the ground in front of you. Return that foot back beside the other. Repeat 8 times on each side if you can.

Here's another everyday exercise: When you stand up from your dining chair, try to not use your arms – this can be a hard one, but it's really helpful for strengthening your legs, hip joints, and back. Whenever you're standing at the kitchen counter, push up on your tiptoes – once, twice, three times, and hold it for a count of 3 before relaxing. Of course, always check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine.

Take a tai chi or yoga class next term at ACE (941-361-6590) and learn more exercises you can do every day to help improve your balance and prevent falls!
by Patricia Rockwood, Adult and Community Enrichment (ACE), Sarasota, Florida