The slow, graceful motions of tai chi improve flexibility and muscle strength. / Eric O'Connell/Getty Images
A stumble and fall may seem like no big deal, but for older adults in particular, the consequences can be serious. Every year, one in three people ages 65 and older take a tumble, causing hip fractures, head trauma and even an increased risk of early death. Deteriorating muscle strength and vision make falls more likely; older adults also tend to take more medications, some of which can cause dizziness and slower reaction times. Follow these four steps to help reduce your risk:
Try tai chi. Described as meditation in motion, tai chi is characterized by slow, graceful movements and posture, and research shows it’s effective at improving balance, flexibility and muscle strength. Tai chi is one option, but there are many activities that can help you stand stronger. In fact, newly published government guidelines recommend exercise and physical therapy to reduce risk of falls among older adults.
Stand on one foot. Do it while waiting in line at the grocery store, at the kitchen sink or anywhere you have something sturdy to hold onto. The more often you do it, the better your balance. Maintain the position for up to 10 seconds, and repeat 10 to 15 times with each leg. When you feel steadier, try holding on to your sturdy object with just one hand, then one finger. Then use no hands.
Have your eyes, ears and meds checked. Vision problems — such as cataracts, glaucoma or even wearing the wrong glasses — can increase your risk of falling. Ear disorders affect balance; so can certain medications, such as blood pressure drugs, sedatives and some antibiotics. Make a list of all your prescription and over-the-counter meds and supplements. Have your doctor check for interactions and perhaps tweak your regimen.
Fall-proof your home. About half of all slips and trips happen in the house. To make yours safer: Put grab bars and non-slip mats in the bathtub or shower, use double-sided tape to keep throw rugs in place, and clear clutter off stairs and other heavily treaded spots.