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Senior Correspondent

Q. I’m having some trouble sleeping and don’t want to take pills. Do you have any suggestions?

Here are some pointers to help you get better sleep:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This will keep you in sync with your body's internal rhythm, which is affected by sunlight.
  • Try to get some natural light in the afternoon each day.
  • Don’t nap too much.
  • Exercise daily, but finish your workout at least three hours before bedtime.
  • Don't drink beverages with caffeine late in the day.
  • Don't drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes to help you sleep.
  • Create a safe and comfortable place to sleep.
  • Use your bedroom only for sleeping.
  • Develop a bedtime routine to tell your body that it's time to wind down.
  • Try not to worry about your sleep. Some people find that playing mental games is helpful. For example, tell yourself it's five minutes before you have to get up and you're just trying to get a few extra winks.

Q. Can I attribute my balance problems to advancing age?

About one in ten people over 65 experience difficulty with balance. Getting older is only part of the problem.

Not all balance problems have the same cause. Here are several major ones:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), which is one of the most common causes of balance problems. With BPPV, you get vertigo when you change the position of your head.
  • Labyrinthitis, an infection or inflammation of the inner ear. The labyrinth is the organ in your inner ear that enables you to maintain balance.
  • Ménière's disease, which also can give you intermittent hearing loss, a ringing or roaring in the ears, and a feeling of fullness in the ear.
  • Blood-pressure medications and some antibiotics.

Q. I know I should exercise, but I’m afraid I might hurt myself. What should I do?

Here are 10 tips to make any exercise program safe:

  1. Don't hold your breath during strength exercises. This could affect your blood pressure.
  2. When lifting weights, use smooth, steady movements. Breathe out as you lift or push a weight, and breathe in as you relax.
  3. Avoid jerking or thrusting movements.
  4. Avoid locking the joints of your arms and legs into a strained position.
  5. Some soreness and slight fatigue are normal after muscle-building exercises. Exhaustion, sore joints, and painful muscle pulls are not normal.
  6. Always warm up before stretching exercises.
  7. Stretching should never cause pain, especially joint pain.
  8. Never bounce into a stretch; make slow steady movements instead.
  9. To prevent injuries, use safety equipment such as helmets for biking.
  10. You should be able to talk during endurance exercises.

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