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How do you know which exercises or activities improve balance?

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By Ashley Hillman, Safe Communities’ Falls Prevention Program Manager

Did you know that there are certain types of exercise that are better for enhancing balance? Walking is great aerobic exercise for your overall health, but it’s actually not an activity that has been proven to help improve balance. However, dancing, pickleball, yoga, ping pong, and Tai Chi are examples of activities that DO improve balance, thus decreasing your risk of a fall. There are certain types of exercises that you can incorporate into your daily routine that help improve balance. Let’s explore!

Static Balance means practicing while your feet or your seat are NOT moving. An example of this may be standing on one leg (maybe try it while you brush your teeth!). While practicing, it’s always a good idea to have a surface available for you to hold onto.

Dynamic Balance means practicing while your feet or your seat ARE moving. It might be time to pull out your dancing shoes because we’ve learned that dancing improves balance. In Dane County, we have Ballroom Basics for Balance™, a super fun dance class where you might learn the East Coast Swing, Cha Cha, or Waltz all while having fun and improving balance. Another example of practicing dynamic balance is stepping over something that might be in your path.

Dual-Task Training means doing something with your body then doing something else with your body OR your brain. This can be a tricky exercise, so while you want to challenge yourself, you don’t want it to be too difficult. Some examples might include walking sideways while counting backward or following a dance routine.

Strength building in the context of improving balance focuses on your legs and core (trunk) area. The goal is to be able to move your body while minimally using your arms and hands. We use our leg and core muscles for many daily activities, such as getting up from a chair, sitting into a chair, or stepping onto a sidewalk.

Now that we know which types of specific activities improve balance, it’s helpful to know how often or long one should engage in such activities. The recommendation is 3 hours per week, but these 3 hours can be broken into “snack size” activities. You don’t need to do them all at once. Incorporate activities into your daily routine. While you’re brushing your teeth, try standing on one leg. While cooking in the kitchen and moving to get something further down the counter, walk sideways and count backwards, all the while ensuring there is a counter or sturdy surface in reach should you need it. The key is to start small and gradually increase the challenge.

There are numerous community classes that have been identified as having the key components to improve balance. These include Tai Chi, dance, yoga, and numerous others that can be found on the Safe Communities website. If you see a “b” next to a class, you’ll know that it has been given the “Balance Stamp of Approval”. And if you’re currently taking a class and would like it to be evaluated to see if it contains the key types of activities to improve balance, contact Ashley Hillman at 608-235-1957 or ahillman@safercommunity.net. We hope to see you in one of Dane County’s many balance enhancing classes soon!

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The partnerships built by Safe Communities have created a safer community, with more opportunities for education and awareness. We continue to envision a safer future for the people who live in Madison and Dane County, with instances of unnecessary deaths and serious injuries are infrequent, rather than a daily occurrence.

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Safe communities has complied a list of abbreviation definitions for finding the right treatment for you.

MAT: Medication for Addiction Treatment.
OP: Outpatient Treatment – person lives at home or in the community, attends. individual and group therapy, these can include or not include MAT.
IOP: Intensive Outpatient Treatment – person lives at home or in the community, attends individual and extended groups, 9-12 hours a week.
Residential: person lives at the facility for a period of at least 14 days, some last as many as 45 days.
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