With age, there are changes to the eyes, ears, muscles and joints that can increase the risk of a fall. Keeping the muscles and joints strong and flexible can help. Stronger muscles are better able to stabilize the body, and more flexible joints allow for greater range of motion. Walking is one way to improve balance, and there are ways to vary a walking routine to get even better benefits.
Walking With Long Strides
A regular walking program can strengthen the leg muscles and keep the whole body limber. It also provides weight-bearing exercise, which strengthens the bones. Strong bones are less likely to fracture if a fall does occur.
A walking program should emphasize picking your feet up, landing with a heel strike and taking long strides. This ensures that your feet clear the floor and reduces the risk of a fall.
In addition, it is important to swing the arm that is opposite to the foot being stepped on up to shoulder height. This will help to provide momentum and improve balance. At first it may be necessary to think about every step you take, but with practice it will become natural to land on the heel first and swing the opposite arm.
Along with a regular walking program, the tandem walking exercise can help to reduce the risk of a fall. To do the tandem walk, use a hallway that is narrow enough that your fingertips can touch the walls when your arms are stretched out to the side, or use a countertop for support. Stand straight and step your right foot forward so that your right heel lands touching the front of your left toes. Then place your right toes down so both feet are flat. Next, step your left foot forward so your left heel touches your right toes and then lower your left toes. Continue walking forward, touching your heel to your toes the whole length of the hallway or countertop.
Tai Chi Walk
Tai Chi is a slow and graceful form of exercise that can be used to prevent falls. To perform a Tai Chi walk, stand straight with the feet together. Bend the right knee and lift the right foot off the floor. Step forward placing the right heel down first. Then roll through the right foot until both feet are flat and the legs are in a lunge position. Do the same motion with the left foot and continue walking forward.
The focus is on moving slowly, with control and rolling through the foot when pushing off and landing. The arms can be out to the sides in an airplane motion, or the Tai Chi walk can be done with one hand on a counter for support. The larger the step that is taken, the harder it is to balance, so take small steps at first.
Avoiding exercise such as walking because of fear of falling just deconditiones the body even further, which raises the risk of a fall even more, warns MayoClinic.com. The goal is to start slowly and take precautions so that a fall will not occur while walking. This includes walking on even surfaces, getting the right shoes and using a cane or walking stick if necessary.
For those with painful joints or severely compromised balance, walking in the water is an option. The buoyancy of the water eases pressure on painful joints, and you can walk along the side of the pool and hold on to prevent a fall. Walking in the water uses all the major muscle groups if you focus on pushing your body through the water to walk.