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The importance of balance — and how to check and improve it

Although we may sing about staying “forever young,” the reality is that we all age and this natural aging begins to affect our balance. Unlike gray hair or wrinkles, loss of balance is not always noticed at first. However, maintaining balance is important since it is crucial for avoiding falls. Each year, falls cause injuries requiring hospitalization for 800,000 people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

There are several ways to check your balance. One method is to stand with both feet together, ankle bone to ankle bone. Cross your arms across your chest and close your eyes. Although a little swaying is normal, you should be able to stand for at least 60 seconds without having to move your feet. Another test is to stand on one foot and bend your other leg at the knee without having it touch the supporting leg. Time how long you can hold the pose first with your eyes open and then with your eyes closed. People 60 and under can usually hold the pose for 29 seconds with their eyes open and 21 seconds with their eyes closed.

No matter how many seconds you can balance now, there are ways to improve and maintain your stability. Balance is a “use it or lose it” skill so consider these simple ways to hold onto this important ability.

Try simple exercises
Whenever you are standing still, spend time working on your balance. For example, while standing at the sink washing dishes, try standing on one leg and then the other. Lift one leg sideways or backwards without tipping. The more you practice balancing, the steadier you will be.

Close your eyes
Vision is an important part of balance. By closing your eyes, you strengthen other balance skills. Simply standing with your eyes closed can be challenging. Be sure to have a chair or other support nearby and try doing simple movements like leg lifts with your eyes closed to improve your sense of balance.

Change your support base
When you stand, your legs become your base of support. It is easier to balance when your legs are apart than when they are close together. To challenge yourself, try moving your legs closer together when standing or doing activities.

Get enough sleep
Try to get at least seven hours of sleep each night. If you don’t get enough sleep, your reaction time is reduced making it harder to stay upright. The body needs to be able to respond quickly to unexpected challenges like uneven surfaces and a good night’s rest improves this ability.

Take a class
All exercise classes are not the same. Tai chi and yoga classes provide exercise that is controlled and deliberate. They help strengthen muscles, flexibility and range of motion which can all benefit balance. The low impact exercise is safe for all ages and abilities.

Regaining balance
After undergoing a medical event or injury, it is common to experience a loss of strength and balance. Recovery is more than a time of healing. It is also a time to bring back weakened muscles and regain the confidence and ability to return to an active lifestyle. Whitehall of Deerfield can offer this effective recovery experience with its orthopedic and post-hospital rehabilitation, featuring one-on-one physical, occupational and speech therapies up to seven days a week. Whitehall of Deerfield’s state-of-the-art gyms provide the tools needed to reach an optimum level of independence and functioning. With one of the highest staff to patient ratios in the area, guests can be confident of receiving attentive, compassionate care around the clock. Wound care, respiratory therapy, pain management and all other needs are also provided to help speed recovery time and avoid re-hospitalization.

Whitehall of Deerfield combines customized health care with personalized attention in a setting that’s both refined and comfortable. Guests enjoy concierge service, daily newspaper and gourmet coffee delivered to their rooms, high-speed wireless Internet, high-definition cable TV with a 24-hour channel of newly released movies, complimentary ice cream parlor, valet parking for guests and more. Meals include a wide-ranging choice of cuisine on selective menus and are served in inviting dining rooms, including two solariums.

To arrange a tour of Whitehall of Deerfield or learn more about getting the effective care you need and the luxury you deserve, call 847-945-4600 or visit whitehallofdeerfield.com.

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