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Neurological Balance Exercises

1. “Yes” and “No” Exercise

Stand on one leg with the other leg hovering just above the floor. Focus on an object a good distance in front of you. Slowly nod your head as if to say yes for a while. Keep breathing and keep your eyes focused on the visual target.
Slowly shake your head as if to say no for a while. Keep your eyes fixed on the target object.
Change to standing on the other leg and repeat. Make it easier by standing on two legs with your feet together.

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2. Walking “Yes” and “No” Exercise

Find a good distance to walk in your home so you can walk forward keeping your eyes fixed on a target ahead. Nod yes while you walk, stopping when you almost reach the target object.
Walk back to the starting point, and then walk forward, again, shaking your head no. Visual focus is key.
For a further challenge, you can try both the “yes” and “no” nods while walking backward, as well.

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3. Eyes Fixed/Eyes Moving Rotational Balance Exercise

Stand on one leg. Hold your arms straight out in front of your chest with the palms together.
Keep your eyes fixed straight ahead on a visual target while you turn your torso above the waist to the right and then to the left ten times. Your eyes should not turn to follow the rotation of your torso. Your head and arms will rotate with your torso. Stand on the other leg and repeat.
Now do the same exercise, but instead of focusing on a single object, allow your eyes to move in the same direction as your head and arms when you rotate. Your vision will simultaneously follow the direction in which you rotate. You will see everything along the way instead of focusing on one target. Which visual instruction makes it harder to balance, fixed eyes or moving eyes?
Make the exercise easier to perform by standing on both legs with your feet together.

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What If You Do Fall?
Even with all your improved balance and agility, accidents can happen. Coming out of a restaurant, you may be distracted while talking to someone and not see a step-down. Or you might slip on a banana peel!
Nonstop Spiraling
The instant you realize you’re going to fall, intercept your first reaction of fear and tension. Instead, relax and soften. Think “spiral downward.” This will naturally set in motion a sequence of events: You will pivot and shift your weight, bend your joints, and present the meatier sides of your thighs, hips, back or shoulders for consecutive contact with the ground. Stiffening with forwarding or backward falling would encourage catching yourself with extended arms and outreached hands. The rigidity in your arms and neck puts your wrists, elbows, and head at risk for injury. You don’t want to hit bony endpoints, such as your tailbone or kneecap, either. With spiraling, you go with the momentum of the fall—rounding, tucking, and spreading the impact on the way.
Let’s practice no-hands spiraling. Stand close beside a wall on your right-hand side.
Begin by rotating your upper body to the right and loosening your legs to descend partway down, pivoting on your feet and leaning toward the wall until your left buttock touches the wall for support. You will have made a half-turn.

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Don’t touch the wall with your hands at any time during the spiral. Relax as you turn and trust that you will gently contact the wall with your hip.
Reverse the spiral, facing the opposite direction.
Now practice spiraling all the way to the floor, without the wall for support at the halfway point. Stand on a surface with some give, such as a thick rug. Rotate your body as before, while bending your legs at the ankles, knees, and hips, rounding your spine and allowing your head to bow forward slightly. Instead of using your arms and hands to make contact with the floor, commit to continual bending and revolving in your legs and body. The key is to never stop pivoting and spiraling. If you hesitate and stop turning if only for a split second, you will hit heavily. Aim to continue the spiral during and after the contact. Your fleshy hips, sides of your back, or shoulders will move continuously through contact with the floor. I repeat. Never stop the turning motion. Keep rolling on the floor until the momentum and force are completely used up and you are lying on the ground quietly.
As another releasing and coordination exercise, try reversing the spiraling sequence from the floor back up to standing. For daily practice, stand and spiral all the way down to the floor and back up again. Change the direction of the spiral each time to use a different side of your body’s strength and flexibility.
All this spiraling practice will put you at a decreased risk for breaking bones and straining muscles, if or when you do fall.

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If You Fall
After a fall, stay calm and still. Before you try to stand up, consider whether you are injured. You want to prevent falling down again while getting back up or, worse, falling immediately after you’ve recaptured the standing upright position.

The Pep Talk
Stuart was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy. He went around to all the best doctors and physical therapists, demanding that this numbness and weakness from damaged nerves in his feet would not continue to deteriorate his balance. But he was constantly battling falling. They said there was nothing to be done.
Stuart began to put on his favorite dance music and allow his body to move itself in ways that were rhythmic and pleasurable, moves that offered stretching and swaying, reaching, kicking, changing direction, and snapping fingers. After a few months, he had made up a dance that he could repeat daily. He’s still dancing into his nineties. He calls it his balance routine.
The human body was designed to move.
OK, this is the game plan. Don’t give up; keep moving. The temptation to give in to the sitting disease may be great. You may yearn to slow down. If you aren’t naturally inspired and motivated to keep physically active, then you may have to encourage yourself, force yourself, meet with a partner, do whatever it takes to make it easier or acceptable or mandatory—to move. Try everything. Keep looking for physical activities that sustain you in the moment, and that are fun. Have you tried croquet? Billiards? Tai Chi? Baton twirling? Ping-pong? Contra dancing, gardening, kite flying, bird watching, or joining a marching band? Just about any activity done while standing up will improve your balance.
The more you move, the better your balance. The better your balance, the greater your confidence. Don’t give up hope. Keep trying.

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