Balance is important in every stage of your life. It allows you to walk with grace, easily see your surrounding and stay pointed in the right direction. Balance allows you to make automatic adjustments to your posture and stability during every activity.
Balance is achieved via a set of ‘sensorimotor control systems’, which includes input from your vision, touch, and vestibular system. The vestibular system involves equilibrium, motion, and spatial orientation. All that sensory input is directed to the muscles of your eyes and body.
Any one of those sensory components can be negatively affected by disease, Injury, certain prescription medications, or—that undeniable part of our life cycle—aging.
How Age Affects Balance
Balance problems as we age usually result from deteriorations in our sensory and muscular functions. After all, many people begin to exercising and move much less after middle age. Here are a few common reasons seniors are more susceptible to falls:
- Vision decreases;
- The legs and hips weaken, making walking difficult;
- Spinal degeneration or the posture becomes poor and it’s difficult to stand up straight;
- Often people can lift their feet like they used to, increasing the likelihood of stumbling;
- Our reactions slow when we encounter a physical obstacle, which can cause a fall;
- Prescription medicines can cause dizziness or affect balance;
- Low blood pressure can cause light-headedness that increases the risk of falling.
For these reasons it’s a good idea for seniors to begin a gentle exercise program that addresses strength, endurance, and balance. Even a small amount of targeted exercise can help restore good balance.
Simple Exercises for Seniors
The main muscle groups should be exercised several days a week, including the legs and arms, shoulders, chest and abdomen.
Staying safe while retraining the balance system is critical. Before beginning any kind of physical program, check with your doctor to be certain you or your family member’s balance problems aren’t the result of disease or infection. Make sure you or your family member aren’t alone while performing these exercises. Start slowly! There’s no hurry and it will take time for balance to return.
• Single Limb Stance
This is an exercise for seniors that can be done with either a chair or a counter to hold onto. An armless chair from the kitchen or dining room is good. Wear shoes with a smooth bottom so they don’t catch on the floor.
This is an excellent exercise to strengthen the hips and ankles. Keep your body weight over your ankles as you stand with your feet together and your arms as your side. Steady yourself with one hand on the back of the chair, which should be placed a bit to the side and in front of you. Bend the knee of the leg that’s closest to the chair, raising your foot back behind you so you’re balancing on the other foot. Hold that position for 10 seconds, then move over and do the same thing with the other foot.
Work up to standing on one foot for a full minute, and lessen your need to use the chair (or counter) by eventually using only a finger, then letting go completely.
• Eye Tracking
The exercises below helps the eyes track, and assists in the visual and vestibular systems, which in turns improves postural stability.
If you get dizzy while doing the exercise below, stop, sit, take a drink of water and look straight ahead until you feel better.
Begin by bending your elbow and holding your thumb in front of your face. It’s as simple as that. Now, move your thumb to the right, tracking it with your eyes until you can’t see it. Don’t move your head! Move your thumb back to the left until you can’t see it. Lift your thumb up, drop it down—track only with the eyes and not your head.
Now hold your thumb at arm’s length. Repeat the tracking exercise; this time follow the movements of your thumb with your eyes and your head.
• Clock reach
This exercise is to designed to improve standing balance by strengthening hip and ankle muscles. It will also add motion range to the upper body and shoulders. Hold onto a chair to avoid a fall. If you want to add to the workout, use a one pound wrist weight.
As you hold onto the chair with your left hand, visualize a giant clock at your right side. Think of the 12, 3, and 6 o’clock positions. Stand tall, lift your right leg and balance on your left leg. Bring your right arm up to the 12 o’clock point then circle your arm back to the 3 o’clock. Don’t reach back too far because it might strain your shoulder. Now go to the 6 o’clock position. Repeat on the other side.
• Staggered Stance
This is to strengthen the ankles so they can help keep the center of gravity, which improves standing balance. Remember your chair!
Start with your feet together and hands at your sides. Step forward on the right foot and stand that way for 10 seconds. Now alternate by placing the other foot in front of you. If you need more accuracy, put tape on the floor to guide your feet. To make it more difficult, close your eyes. Or try twisting at the waist. For a really big challenge, do it standing on a pillow.
And don’t do it alone!
• Knee Marching
One final exercise. This is a mild cardio exercise that also addresses leg weakness and helps your ‘moving’ balance.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and arms at your sides. Lift one knee as high as you can and still be comfortable. Lower that leg and lift the other knee. You’re marching in place. Repeat the knee lifts 20 times on each side. Keep the chair or counter close.
Older people can achieve better balance and reduce their risk of falling by faithfully working to improve the strength in their ankles and hips, and by moving their arms to build flexibility in the upper body and shoulders. These 5 simple exercises for seniors will help you do just that.