Most people don’t think much about practicing their balance, but they need to. As we age, our balance declines if it isn’t practiced, which can lead to falls that often result in a broken bone.
Every year more than one in four people age 65 and older fall, and the risk increases with age. Here’s what you should know about balance problems, along with some different exercises that can help you improve it.
Aging Affects Balance
Balance is something most people take for granted until it’s challenged by a medical condition, medication or advanced age, which dulls our balance senses and causes most seniors to gradually become less stable on their feet over time.
Poor balance can also lead to a vicious cycle of inactivity. You feel a little unsteady, so you curtail certain activities. If you’re inactive, you’re not challenging your balance systems or using your muscles. As a result, both balance and strength suffer. Simple acts like strolling through a grocery store or getting up from a chair become trickier. That shakes your confidence, so you become even less active.
If you have a balance problem that is not tied to illness, medication or some other specific cause, simple exercises can help preserve and improve your balance. Here are four exercises you can do that will help:
- One-legged stands: Stand on one foot for 30 seconds, or longer, then switch to the other foot. In the beginning, you might want to have a wall or chair to hold on to. Or, for an extra challenge try closing your eyes, or standing on a throw pillow or Bosu ball (an inflated rubber disc on a stable platform).
- Heel-to-toe walking: Take 20 steps while looking straight ahead. Think of a sobriety test.
- Standing up: Without using your hands, get up from a straight-backed chair and sit back down 10 to 20 times. This improves balance and leg strength.
I do, however, want to emphasize that if you’ve already fallen, are noticeably dizzy or unsteady, or have a medical condition affecting your balance, you need to see a doctor. They might refer you to a physical therapist or to an appropriate balance-training class in your community. It’s also important to know that many medicines and medical conditions – from Parkinson’s disease to diabetes to inner-ear disorders – can affect balance.
A portion of our balance program- Balance and Posture can be viewed here.