Quite a few readers write to me to say they find it increasingly difficult to balance as they get older. And I have a lot of sympathy because I know what it feels like.
The brain works hard to keep us upright at the best of times, and as we age we need to practise movements which test and challenge our balance.
Keeping balanced involves many parts of your body: the balancing organ in your inner ear, receptors in your muscles and joints which are sensitive to movement, muscles that perform movements to keep you steady and nerves which run from the body up the spine to the brain.
All of these components are gathered together at the back of the brain in the cerebellum.
Complicated? You bet.
You can wait until your balance is deteriorating to start doing exercises but it’s much better to start earlier when your balance is good.
As a general rule, once you’re 50 or over, you should start building exercises into your daily routine. And they’re quite simple – stand on one leg to brush your teeth or to put on socks, tights or trousers, then try to hold the position for a count of five.
It’s never too late to start, your body has the potential to get strong and stable. Always speak to your doctor if you are at all frail, though.
Go to a gym and talk to an instructor, there may be a keep fit group. Find out about yoga and Tai Chi – which has been proven to prevent falls. Alternatively you could exercise in your own home. The National Osteoporosis Society () has some great suggestions.
If you can, try to do these exercises twice a week. Don’t worry if you wobble a bit at first. Just stand near something to hold on to.
Having strong muscles in your legs is the most important factor in staying steady and walking every day will keep them strong.
Every day I try to do one-leg stands by facing a wall, with my arms outstretched and my fingertips touching the wall. Then I lift my right leg and count to five and do the same on the left.
Then, looking forward, I do heel-to-toe walking by standing upright and placing my right heel on the floor directly in front of my left toes, then placing my left heel in front of my right toes for five steps.
The best place for me is the kitchen where I can hang on to a work surface.