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Poor balance can make you dizzy and unsteady on your feet. It can also cause you to do things like miss a stair step, bump into furniture, or trip over the family pet. In the worst situations, stumbles can lead to falls and potentially serious injuries.

Falling can definitely be a concern if you live with diabetes and are managing complications linked to poor balance. These complications include peripheral neuropathy or nerve damage (loss of sensation in the feet, legs, and hands), retinopathy (damaged blood vessels in the eyes), and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Other conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma can also present challenges.

But do not let fear get in your way when it comes to staying active! Exercise can help strengthen both body and mind, and actually lessens your risk of falling.

Make yourself fall-resistant

“When people are afraid of falling or if they have experienced a fall, they [may] begin to limit their physical activity and socializing,” says Mandy Shintani, a Vancouver-based occupational therapist who works with older adults and also lectures on fall prevention. “As they do less, they can move into depression and lose their motivation to be active, which leads to a deterioration of their balance and physical condition. The end of this cycle is often another fall.”

While you cannot reverse neuropathy or vision loss, you can decrease your risk of falling by developing better balance.

Here are three exercises, recommended by Shintani, to help improve your balance and keep you steady on your feet. Practise them several days a week.

1. One-foot balance

Stand beside a table or chair, and place one hand on it for support. Lift one foot slightly off the ground to stand on the other leg, and, when you feel ready, also lift the hand off the chair. Hold this position for 10 seconds, then lower your foot and hand, and briefly rest. Repeat with the other leg and hand. Repeat up to two times. Over time, progress to holding the position for a longer time, up to a maximum of one minute.

2. Heel-toe walk

Stand beside a wall or kitchen counter, and place one hand on it for support. Walk 10 steps, placing the heel of one foot to the toes of the other foot, as if you were walking on a tightrope. Turn around and walk 10 steps in the other direction. Progress to performing the exercise twice, and eventually without hand support.

3. Toe raises

Stand facing a table or chair with both hands on it for support and your feet together. Raise the front half of your feet off the floor so your weight is on your heels, hold for one second, and then lower them. Build up to doing two sets of 10 repetitions each, then to holding the table or chair with only one hand, and then without any support.

Create a safe home

Most falls happen in the bedroom and living room, but it is important to ensure your entire home is free of tripping hazards.

“Be sure your rooms are brightly lit and that floors are free of clutter,” says Shintani. “Discard throw rugs; install grab bars in the bathroom and, if needed, additional stairway handrails; and always wear sturdy non-slip footwear.”

Did You Know?

Treat physical activity like sleep or food: It is something your body needs every day to be healthy. If you need help getting started, visit Planning for Regular Physical Activity.

Do you have a story about the difference physical activity has made for you and your health? Please let us know at dialogue@diabetes.ca.

(This article appeared in Diabetes Dialogue, Summer 2019)


Author: Barb Gormley

Category Tags: Healthy Living;

Region: National

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