SOUND MIND, SOUND BODY: Age's effects on balance raise risk of injury

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As people age they may start to notice that many activities that were easy to do when they were younger are a little more challenging now.

Something that people take for granted in their younger years is balance; loss of the ability to balance can lead to falls. By practicing balance exercises and keeping physically active some of the decline in balance can be avoided.

Falls can have a life-changing impact on an older adult. Sometimes it's not something they fully recover from. Falling and the injuries that might result from that can interfere with performing daily activities and the ability to remain independent.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of three adults age 65 and older fall each year.

Among those age 65 and older falls are the leading cause of injury death and the leading cause of traumatic nonfatal injury hospital admissions.

Fractures in older adults are many times the result of a fall. When a person falls it may not only result in a physical problem but it could be psychological also.

Even if there is no injury after a fall the person may now fear falling again, which could result in a decreased activity level.

To increase balance and reduce chance of falling there are a few steps that can be taken. Get regular exercise, focusing on leg strength and improving balance.

Some options are tai chi or yoga classes. These types of classes provide balance training throughout.

Walking is also a great exercise that can be easily practiced; you can try walking at faster speeds if it feels comfortable to you. Working on cardiovascular exercise, strength and flexibility in addition to balance exercises is also important.

With the help of a fitness professional you can put together a workout program to help improve your overall fitness.

Practice safety when performing balance exercises, making sure there is a wall, chair or other object that you can grab onto. Also, only perform exercises that you feel comfortable with.

Remember, before starting any type of exercise program be sure to consult with your physician, as they can tell you what type of exercise might be appropriate for you.

While there is not a specific reason that balance decreases as the body ages, with an overall fitness program addressing strength, cardiovascular health, flexibility and balance some of the declines can be prevented.

Valerie Rankin has been working in the fitness industry since 1998. She has a bachelor's degree in health education and fitness promotion. She is the group exercise director at the YMCA, where she manages and instructs fitness classes.

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