Guarding against falls isn't just for the elderly. The inner ear's ability to maintain balance can begin to decline as early as age 40, according to a study in Frontiers of Neurology. So the time to improve your balance is now.
Strong legs and flexible ankles help prevent falls and allow you to catch yourself if you do trip, so target these areas through exercise. Here are three moves to practice regularly.
Ankle rotations: Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Lift one leg out in front of you and use your big toe to make circles in the air. Move clockwise for 15 to 20 rotations and then counterclockwise for an equal amount. Repeat with the other foot.
Single leg balancing: Stand straight, feet together, arms at your sides. Lift one foot a few inches off the floor, bending that knee slightly, and balance on the other leg. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat. Aim for twice on each side. Keeping stomach muscles contracted will help.
The dancer's pose: Better balance is one of yoga's benefits, and this pose is particularly effective. Stand straight, feet together, arms at your sides. Raise your right arm out in front of you, thumb toward the ceiling. Lift your left leg behind you, bending at the knee. Reach back with your left hand to grab your left foot and help bring it toward your rear. You can lift your right arm higher for better balance. Hold briefly, then return to start and repeat on the other side. Repeat up to four times on each side.
Ready for more? One of the best ways to strengthen muscles and improve balance as well as agility, flexibility and relaxation is with tai chi. It emphasizes footwork and teaches you how to balance in many positions. Look for local classes, which are often held outdoors to add to its feeling of serenity.
The American Council on Exercise has more balance exercises you can do in just minutes.