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7 Basic Exercises That Really Work

Stick to these moves and you'll see results.
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Thursday, July 02, 2015
7 Basic Exercises That Really Work
7 Basic Exercises That Really Work

Stick to these moves and you'll see results. See how to do them correctly in our visual guide.
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Improve your balance by walking

Also: Why good posture matters
July 2, 2015
Harvard Medical School

Improve your balance by walking

The sense of balance typically worsens with age. It can be further compromised by certain medical conditions and medications, uncorrected vision problems, or a lack of flexibility. Poor balance often leads to falls, which can cause head injuries and other disabling injuries. Hip fractures, in particular, can lead to serious health complications and threaten independence. A combination of activities such as walking, strength training, and specific workouts can improve balance and prevent falls, especially in older adults.

Walking helps build lower-body strength, an important element of good balance. Walking is safe exercise for most people and, in addition to improving balance, counts toward your aerobic activity goals. If health problems make walking especially difficult for you, a physiatrist or physical therapist can suggest other options.

A good walking plan should be designed to safely boost physical activity whether you're sedentary or fairly active. The minutes count, not the miles. Here's how to tailor a walking plan to your needs:

Product Page - Better Balance
Discover how you can prevent falls by improving your balance and mobility. Better Balance: Easy exercises to improve stability and prevent falls gives you step-by-step instructions for easy, effective workouts that will improve posture, increase muscle strength and speed, sharpen reflexes, expand flexibility, and firm your core. You'll also get tips for fall-proofing your home.

Read More

If you aren't in the habit of exercising, start at the beginning. If you normally use a cane or walker, be sure to do so. As you feel stronger and more comfortable, gradually add more minutes to your walks.

If you already exercise, start with a walking plan that best matches your current routine and build from there. If the plan seems too easy, add time, distance, or hills. Aim for at least 150 minutes of walking per week, but don't hesitate to add more.

For more information on improving balance and preventing falls, along with detailed exercise plans and routines, buy Better Balance: Easy exercises to improve stability and prevent falls, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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Why good posture matters

"Stand up straight." That's timeless advice we've probably all heard at one time or another. It's worth heeding. Good posture is important to balance. By standing up straight, you center your weight over your feet. Good posture also helps you maintain correct form while exercising, which results in fewer injuries and greater gains.

Good balance has many payoffs. If you love tennis, golf, running, dancing, skiing, or any number of other sports or activities, working on balance strengthens your abilities. Not an athlete? Just walking across the floor or down the block requires good balance. So does rising from a chair, going up and down stairs, toting packages, and even turning to look behind you.

Poor posture isn't necessarily a bad habit. Physical reasons for poor posture include:

  • Inflexible muscles that decrease range of motion (how far a joint can move in any direction). For example, overly tight, shortened hip muscles tug your upper body forward and disrupt your posture. Overly tight chest muscles can pull your shoulders forward.

  • Muscle strength affects balance in a number of ways. The "core muscles" of the back, side, pelvis, and buttocks form a sturdy central link between your upper and lower body. Weak core muscles encourage slumping, which tips your body forward and thus off balance. Strong lower leg muscles help keep you steady when standing.

Balance workouts address posture and balance problems with exercises that build strength where it counts and stretches that loosen tight muscles. Quick posture checks in the mirror before and during balance exercises can help you get the most from your workout. Increasing core strength and flexibility can help you improve your posture noticeably in just a few weeks.

Good posture means:

  • chin parallel to the floor

  • shoulders even (roll your shoulders up, back, and down to help achieve this)

  • neutral spine (no flexing or arching to overemphasize the curve in your lower back)

  • arms at your sides with elbows straight and even

  • abdominal muscles braced

  • hips even

  • knees even and pointing straight ahead

  • body weight distributed evenly on both feet.

When sitting down, keep your chin parallel to the floor; your shoulders, hips, and knees at even heights; and your knees and feet pointing straight ahead.

For more on improving your balance, buy Better Balance: Easy exercises to improve stability and prevent falls, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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Featured in this issue

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Better Balance

Featured content:

How balance works
Balance problems
Activities that enhance balance
Starting balance workouts safely
•  ... and more!

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