A man practices standing on one leg an the beach to improve balance.

Falls are the leading cause of injuries—and deaths from injuries—among adults 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than one-fourth of people in that age group slip or trip each year, and about 20 percent of those who do are seriously hurt.

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“Some people may be inclined to stay home and cut back on physical activity in order to avoid falling,” says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., professor emeritus of clinical medicine at New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y., and former chief medical adviser for Consumer Reports. “But moving around less frequently only weakens the leg muscles needed for balance, which increases your risk of falling when you do walk.”

But there’s a better strategy for better balance: Lifestyle steps that can help you navigate your environment and simple exercises to strengthen the muscles that keep you steady. Here’s what to do.

1. Let Your Doctor Know

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

If you’ve had a fall, are feeling unsteady, or are simply 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 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, Sominex, and generic), can also affect your balance. And taking multiple drugs multiplies the risk, as does switching doses, especially to higher amounts.

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 in the weeks after the procedure as you recover and adjust to your new level of vision.  

4. Wear Sturdy Shoes

“Slippers” is an apt term—because 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 improve balance.

5. Take Extra Care Outside

When possible, hold on to 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. For walking on icy ground, consider slip-on ice cleats, which can give you more traction. 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. But exercise that can strengthen them has a good track record as an effective way to reduce your risk of falling, according to an analysis published in 2018 by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of medical experts that evaluates preventive medical services. Aim for 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise, such as brisk walking, five days a week.

Exercises that target your leg muscles are also helpful, especially if they improve balance at the same time. Try to do some muscle strengthening at least two days per week. Here are two leg-strengthening moves 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. 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.

Exercises like tai chi may also help. And you can find more exercises to help you improve balance from the National Institute on Aging and in this strength-training guide (PDF) from the CDC.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the December 2016 issue of Consumer Reports On Health.