Falls are the leading cause of injuries—and deaths from injuries—among adults 65 and older, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than one in four people in that age group slips or trips each year, and some 20 percent of those who do fall are seriously injured.

Staying at home more and cutting back on physical activity might seem like a smart way to stay safe, but doing that could actually increase the likelihood of falls, by weakening the leg muscles needed for balance. Instead, follow some smart lifestyle steps to help you better navigate your environment and simple exercises to strengthen the muscles that keep you steady. Try these strategies:

1. Don’t Wait for a Fall

Often, people fail to talk with their doctors about fall prevention until after they’ve take a tumble, says Debra Rose, Ph.D., of the Center for Successful Aging at California State University, Fullerton.

So if you’ve had a fall, are feeling unsteady, or are just worried about falling, ask your doctor to check for conditions that can affect balance, such as low blood pressure, anemia, and inner-ear disorders. More serious conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia, as well as a history of stroke, can also undermine your balance. Other disorders, such as arthritis, can increase your risk of falls by making it more difficult to move easily.

2. Consider Your Meds

Many medications can cause dizziness, including those often prescribed to treat anxiety, such as diazepam (Valium and generic) and lorazepam (Ativan and generic); and those used for insomnia, such as flurazepam (Dalmane and generic) and zolpidem (Ambien and generic). Various over-the-counter medications, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy, Sominex, and generic), can also affect your balance. And taking multiple drugs multiplies the risk, as does switching doses, especially to higher ones.

3. Check Your Vision

It's no surprise that poor vision makes falls more likely. But some eyeglass lenses, especially those that are multifocal, can do the same, by impairing depth perception—at least until you get used to your prescription. So take extra care when you get a new pair of glasses.

Note that surgery to remove a clouded cataract can eventually improve your vision. But you'll need to be especially cautious after the procedure as you recover and adjust to your new level of vision.  

4. Wear Sturdy Shoes

“Slippers” is an apt term—they’re more likely to make you fall than other kinds of footwear. Instead try a sturdy shoe with a heel collar and a firm (not cushy) sole. That helps you feel the ground, which can make you steadier. If you ever have to walk on icy ground, consider slip-on ice cleats, which can improve your traction.

5. Walk Carefully

When possible, hold onto handrails with both hands. And if you find yourself on an icy patch, especially on stairs, don’t be embarrassed to slow down and take it easy: Bend your knees, take tiny steps, and walk sideways. If necessary, sit down and push yourself forward on your hands and legs. 

6. Look for Home Hazards

Inside, move loose rugs, pet bowls, and cords out of the paths where you walk. Install handrails in staircases, in the shower, and by the toilet. Inside and outside your house, use lightbulbs with the highest wattage recommended for each fixture, and always use a night light.

7. Strengthen Your Legs

Weak legs are a major risk factor for falls. To strengthen them, aim for 30 minutes of walking five days per week. Exercises that target your leg muscles are also helpful, especially if they improve balance at the same time. Here are two exercises to try: 

• The Raise-Up. Hold onto a bathroom or kitchen counter with both hands, facing it, then raise yourself up onto the balls of your feet. Hold for a count of 5, release, and repeat 10 times.

• The Leg Raise.  Hold for a count of 5, release, and repeat 10 times. Or, again standing in front of a counter, balance yourself, unaided, on one leg for a count of 5, then repeat with the other leg, for a total of 10 times on each leg. Over the course of a few weeks, work up to a goal of 30 seconds.

You can find more exercises from the National Institute on Aging and in this strength-training guide (PDF) from the CDC.