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Balance can be taken for granted until it's lost -- or recovered

Losing balance abilities can result in broken bones or a devastating reduction in one's quality of life. Recovering them can be life-changing.

Michelle Miller

Michelle Miller

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"We're talking about longevity and quality of life," said Michelle Miller, an Indiana University fitness expert whose balance classes have gotten rave reviews. "We hear, 'This class has changed my life because I can pick up my grandchild now,' or, 'I can leave my house without being afraid of falling,' or 'I can safely walk my dog.'"

The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association issued exercise guidelines that encourage people older than 65 to consider balance training to help prevent falls. Miller, coordinator of the fitness specialist bachelor's degree program in IU Bloomington's Department of Kinesiology, said people of any age may experience balance impairment. Conditions such as diabetes or hearing loss, the use of multiple medications that might not interact well, and poor strength can affect the balance of someone who looks perfectly healthy.

"We need to teach people how to be conscious of how they move both internally and externally, in other words, how to safely move in their environment," Miller said. "I'm still amazed at how little many people understand how their bodies move until someone teaches them how to move in their own spaces."

Miller offers these considerations for balance training:

  • Expert help. Balance is more complicated than many people think. It involves three different body systems -- vision, inner ear and touch. Muscle strength and posture play an important role, too. Like other mind-body exercises, yoga or Pilates, for example, a class can help people reach their goals safely and more effectively. Miller said some participants in the local classes reported remarkable progress in just six to eight weeks. These classes, however, included hands-on assistance and close attention to safety issues. In upcoming classes, instructors will combine education about balance with an obstacle course that lets participants practice their skills in real-life situations similar to their current environments.
  • Get a balance assessment. As useful as they are, a balance assessment performed by someone without adequate training could do more harm than good, Miller said. People should inquire into whether a fitness professional or physical therapist has received training in how to perform the assessments. Miller's students in the IU fitness specialist program become knowledgeable about the science and application of balance assessment and training. To practice their skills, the students will be performing balance assessments this fall at the local YMCA.
  • Who should consider it? Balance training is appropriate for any age, if properly monitored, Miller said. It should be considered by people who have a history of falling, a lack confidence in their ability to move around outside or inside the home, or think their lifestyle is inhibited by their fear of falls. "Self-confidence is huge in this," Miller said. "I think truly that's what keeps people in their homes, inactive and afraid to move."

To read more articles from the Department of Kinesiology, visit