As people age they may notice that their balance seems to become more of a problem to maintain. Statistics have shown that the elderly fall far more often than any other age group except for children learning to walk. Falling is far more troublesome for seniors as it can produce serious injuries such as hip fractures. We may think this is part of the aging process and has to be accepted. We cannot stop aging, but we can fight back and significantly minimize the risk of deteriorating balance. Remember, good balance is necessary to have an active lifestyle as we age.
Why is Balance Important?
Good balance is an important factor for your quality of life. A fear of falling may result in reducing the activities you engage in and can perpetuate the deterioration of your balance. However, maintaining an active lifestyle as we age provides confidence in our ability to perform not only the activities of daily living, but recreational and working activities. Maintaining good balance prevents or minimizes falls that can result in injury. It also minimizes the amount of worry that family members may have about parents or grandparents suffering a serious injury from a fall. As you age you owe it to yourself to maintain your health and productivity in order to continue to enjoy life.
Activities to Improve Balance
The first step is to make the decision to do what you can to prevent or minimize balance problems. If your imbalance is due to aging and you continue to live with the problem and not make an effort to stop or significantly manage it, you can expect a continued deterioration of your balance issues. Unfortunately, when people retire there is a tendency to reduce activity and basically slow down. Not only will balance suffer, but muscle deterioration and cardiovascular health can be reduced. The old adage “you better use it or you’re going to lose it” comes to mind. Improving your balance includes engaging in activities and situations where you have a sense of instability. Performing these activities stimulates joint, muscle and brain “learning” to maintain coordination and muscle tone that help maintain stability. It is recommended that attempting the activities that make you feel unstable should be performed in a controlled environment. Some suggestions to help with your balance include the following:
- Balance Board – Allows various balance activities with an inexpensive device. To begin, hold on to the wall for stability. As your balance improves work towards performing the activities without holding on to the wall. There are different styles of balance boards.
- Lower Back Exercises – Lower back stretching exercises should be done prior to lower back strengthening exercises. This helps to maintain core muscles. Muscle tone is important in maintaining your balance.
- Lower Extremity Exercises – Hamstring and pelvic muscle stretches are performed with the lower back exercises. Gentle stretching of the calf muscles is recommended. In addition, ankle exercises should be performed to help mobilize the ankle to improve the proprioception or “joint sense” of the ankle. The joints of the spine and lower extremities are very important in maintaining your balance and joint position.
- Exercise Ball – Sitting on a ball and going through a balance routine is very helpful not only for balance, but to help with strength and proprioception of the spine. Bounce up and down gently and rotate the hips while sitting on the ball.
- Wii Fit Plus © – How about having some fun and improving your balance? Nintendo © has done a very good job with this program. It not only includes balance games, but it has yoga, muscle strength, aerobic and advanced aerobic activity. This is a very safe, gentle and easy way to improve your balance but also your cardiovascular and muscle conditioning. You are even able to perform these activities with your mate. The system keeps track of your progress. Talk to your physician prior to beginning any aggressive activity to be sure it is safe for you.
- Start Walking – Begin walking on a regular basis. In cold weather many enclosed shopping malls allow walkers access to a level surface and safe environment. It may be necessary to check in with mall security. In nice weather, stay on paths or hard even surfaces when walking outdoors. Start walking short distances and increase distance and speed as you become more fit.
- Agility Exercises – Use a workout to increase your speed and agility. Obtain some small orange cones like the ones used by your grandchildren for soccer or football drills.
Do the exercises 2-3 times per week. These can be done outdoors, in a long hallway or a large room in your home. Start out easy on each of the routines until you build confidence and strength. Make sure the area is free of obstacles. In the beginning have someone with you to offer encouragement and to watch to make sure you don’t fall. The agility activity aids your balance as you age and helps prevent falls. Here are some suggestions:
- Sit in a chair and put the cone 8-10 feet out in front of you. Get up as quickly as you can, go clockwise around the cone and then go back to the chair and sit down. Do this routine 8-10 times. This is the best exercise for beginners.
- The next and more involved exercise includes getting 5-6 cones and placing them in a line about 6-8 feet apart. Weave between them, starting to the right of the first cone and to the left of the second cone and so on to the end. Turn around and do the same maneuver back to the starting position. This should be done 5 times.
- The last activity is more advanced. Put the cones in a square with 10-12 feet between each cone. Start at cone number one with your left foot (moving clockwise) walking towards the second cone. At the second cone switch to a sideways shuffle facing out from the square. When you reach the third cone, switch facing in towards the square and do the same shuffle movement. At cone number four, walk backwards to cone number one. Repeat this activity 3 times.
Have patience when performing these routines. It is the amount of time and the frequency of repetition that will be the most helpful for you.
The doctors at Coon Rapids Chiropractic Office have experience in assisting with exercise recommendations and suggestions to help improve your balance.