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Improve Balance, the Sixth Sense

Take this simple test:

"Stand on one foot for 15 seconds with your eyes closed."

If you're over 40 you probably couldn't do it. If you're between 25 and 40 you may have had problems, because after 25 your sense of balance begins to decline. This means the danger of falls increases as we age. Even young people, who are more likely to take chances - like climbing to high on a ladder, should be concerned with falls.

Balance is the most overlooked element of fitness and should rank right up there with strength and endurance, but gets overlooked until you have a problems. Various sports activities can call for good balance and we're all aware of the susceptibility of seniors to falls.

Balance is controlled by an array of body systems that track sensory information from nerves and muscles. In older people, balance may worsen, because they become less fit and sensory receptors begin to fail. An improvement in balance can benefit everyone and make you feel more graceful and improve coordination and posture.

Staying as fit as you can will help preserve your sense of balance, but here are some specific exercises to add to your workout.

  1. Stand near a support, rise to your tiptoes 10 times. (Repeat with your eyes closed)
  2. Stand on one leg, flexing the other leg slightly. Repeat 10 times.
    (Repeat with your eyes closed)
  3. Repeat exercise #2, but lift your leg to the side. Repeat with the other leg.
  4. Stand in a heel-toe position (right foot ahead of left foot, with toes touching heel). Now try it with your eyes closed.
  5. Practice walking heel to toe across the room. (like walking a "tightrope")
  6. Repeat exercise #5 with your eyes closed. (Now try it again backwards)
  7. Stand on one foot and lean forward to touch the ground with your hand, without the other foot touching the ground.

Improving thigh muscle (Quadriceps) strength can be of great benefit to improving balance. Talk to your Fitness instructor about resistance exercises that isolate and develop that muscle group.

...And, let's not forget nutrition! A recent laboratory study of elderly rats fed the human equivalent of a cup of blueberries each day improved in balance, coordination and short term memory. Blueberries contain chemicals that act as anti-oxidents and protect the body against "oxidative stress," one of several biological processes that cause aging.

Blueberries test high in their ability to subdue molecules called oxygen free radicals. In normal amounts, free radicals help rid the body of toxins, but they can also harm cell membranes and DNA, which results in cell death. The lab tests also showed that strawberries and spinach produced improvement in memory, but only the blueberries had a significant impact on balance and coordination.

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