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Get Fit for Balance and Cancer Prevention

AICR advises getting at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day to prevent cancer. Even a little physical activity can improve your balance. An expert explains how.

Despite statistics that say one in three older people fall at least once each year, most falls are preventable, says Debbie Rose, PhD, Professor and Director of the Center for Successful Aging at California State University in Fullerton.

The tricky part is that fear of falling can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, Dr. Rose explains.

“Staying inactive to avoid falls can actually increase your chances for a fall because you’ll decline physically by remaining inactive,” she says.

“Maintaining balance has to become more of an intentional process as we get older.”

Minding Your Balance

“If you have a balance problem, you can improve by working on balance exercises,” says Dr. Rose, who is also Co-Director of California State’s Fall Prevention Center of Excellence. She suggests using something steady for support and to be wary of pain. “You will feel twinges and fatigue in your muscles to some degree, but pain that lasts more than 24 hours is a signal to do your exercises more gently,” she says.

It’s best to find a fitness professional so you can find out which moves you’ll be able to do safely. “The type of exercise should be determined by your individual needs,” says Dr. Rose.

For example, if you feel stiff, gentle stretching will be an important part of your routine. If you have lower body weakness and can’t do standing balance exercises, start with seated moves (see exercise, below).

“Walking is one of the easiest activities,” says Dr. Rose. “It improves range of motion, it strengthens and it can help with balance.”

Light weight-shifting activities are usually helpful. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes with rubber soles when you exercise or walk.

It’s Never Too Late to Start Moving More

One older adult with whom Dr. Rose had worked had not exercised until his early 80s. He has significant osteoarthritis in his hips and knees and he uses a cane. But by doing simple exercises regularly, he recovered much of his mobility and strength.

“He is thriving at 93 and he’ll be the first to tell you exercise has changed his life,” says Dr. Rose, “He’s a wonderful representative for what is possible. And a good example that shows it’s never too late to start.”

Try These Exercises for Balance

STANDING: Stand on One Foot

This exercise strengthens your hips, thighs and buttocks.

  1. Stand on one foot behind a sturdy chair, holding on for balance.
  2. Hold position for up to 10 seconds.
  3. Repeat 10-15 times.
  4. Repeat 10-15 times with other leg.
  5. Repeat 10-15 times with each leg.

SEATED: Leg Straightening

This exercise strengthens your thighs and may reduce symptoms of arthritis of the knee.

  1. Sit in a sturdy chair with your back supported by the chair. Only the balls of your feet and your toes should rest on the floor. Put a rolled bath towel at the edge of the chair under your thighs for support. Breathe in slowly.
  2. Breathe out and slowly extend one leg in front of you as straight as possible, but don’t lock your knee.
  3. Flex foot to point toes toward the ceiling. Hold position for 1 second.
  4. Breathe in as you slowly lower leg back down.
  5. Repeat 10-15 times.
  6. Repeat 10-15 times with other leg.
  7. Repeat 10-15 times with each leg.

AICR Newsletter 118 - Winter 2013

Published on February 26, 2013

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