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Watch Your Step

Smart Fitness

When most people think about losing their balance, they immediately think of falling. And, yes, the consequences of falling for adults 65 and over are tremendous—13,700 deaths, 1.8 million visits to the emergency room, and $19 billion in medical costs annually due to hip fractures, head trauma, and more.

But many of us—particularly those of us under 65—don’t necessarily fall when we lose our balance. Instead, we end up with a host of sprains and strains that put a damper on everything from walking to playing sports. Here’s what happens: most of us have a sense of where we are in space, as well as the relation of one body part to another. This sense is called proprioception, and it’s vital to ensuring—when we’re walking or running, for instance—that we know approximately where our feet will land with each step. As we age, we naturally lose proprioception, so that maybe our feet hit at an odd angle, putting strain on ankles and backs.

“Baby boomers have gotten to the point where they’re starting to hit their 60s, and they’re not content to sit on the porch,” says Jay Mabrey, M.D., chief of orthopedics at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. “They want to get out there and do stuff—without falling or getting injured.”

Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to improve your proprioception—and that’s through balance training.

Rock Steady

Try the following balance exercises for a quick and painless way to improve your game, whatever it might be. (Exercises provided by Joe Scott, outpatient team leader for orthopedics at Southcoast Hospital Group in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts.)

Stand on two feet with your eyes open (and without holding on to anything). Then close your eyes. Try to keep them closed for 30 seconds without swaying (eventually working up to 1 minute, using a kitchen timer to time yourself).

Once you’ve mastered the previous exercise, stand on one leg for 30 seconds. Then close your eyes for 30 seconds while standing on one leg. Work up to being able to stand on one leg for 1 minute with your eyes closed. Repeat, using other leg.

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