The key to maintaining balance lies with three major sensory contributors. Vision provides you with a sense of where you are in relation to your environment and gives you clues that keep you from tripping over obstacles. Nerve receptors in the fluid-filled semicircular canals of the inner ear send balance messages to the brain when your head moves side to side or up and down. The third contributors to good balance are proprioceptors, which are nerves embedded in muscles and tendons that tell the brain when a movement occurs so the body can shift to maintain its equilibrium. When one or more of these systems malfunctions, your balance can be affected. Try these exercises to help you and those you care for stay on your feet!
1. One-leg stands
Stand straight. Raise one leg, bending your knee to 45 degrees. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times and then switch legs. Try one-leg stands while waiting in lines, washing dishes or watching TV.
2. Heel-to-toe walking
Walk with the heel of the front foot touching the toe of the back foot as you take 10 steps forward.
Step to the right, then bring your left foot to meet your right foot. Advance to cross-stepping, where you side-step to the right and cross your left leg behind, then side-step to the right again and cross your left leg in front. Continue this pattern as you walk sideways across a room.
4. Unassisted standing from a chair
Sit in a firm chair and stand without using your arms for balance.
5. Tai chi
Try a tai chi program, which is excellent for promoting balance.
6. Ankle pumping when you get out of bed
If you are prone to dizziness when rising from your bed, sit on the edge of the bed for a few seconds and pump your ankles before you stand up. Before you move, take a deep breath, get your bearings (as my grandmother would say), and then step forward. Many of us get up too quickly and start to walk too soon.