Watch your step! What you can do at home to improve balance
By Dinora De Venuti (Exercise Physiologist)
Our balance plays a vital role in sports, activities of daily living (ADL) and as we continue to age. The ability to control balance during our ADL’s is reduced as we age as a result of deterioration in the sensory, cognitive and musculoskeletal system.
For older adults, it can help maintain their independence, confidence, improve proprioception (the body’s ability to perceive its own position in space) and prevent the risk of injuries from falls. For those that like to keep active, it will improve stability/control in your exercise regime and everyday life.
Unfortunately, we do not realise that we are using balance on a day-to-day basis until we start to lose it. Many of us face a risk of falling during ADL’s. Exercise may not improve your eyesight or hearing but it can definitely improve your balance and proprioception!
KEY RISK FACTORS
There are many risk factors that can contribute to poor balance. Some of the main risks include:
- Muscle weakness: Poor level of strength in the lower limbs
- Foot problems: This can include foot pain, loss of sensation, or even poor footwear
- Medical conditions and medications: Some medical conditions and medications can affect balance. This may include dizziness, vertigo, sleepiness, etc.
- Vision problems: Our vision change as we age. Sometimes there is a need for more light or a change in vision/eyewear prescriptions.
- Environmental hazards: These may include trip and fall hazards, slippery or uneven surfaces.
Balance increases not only your strength but coordination assisting with basic activities of daily living such as carrying heavy loads or climbing the stairs. I can’t stress enough the importance of including balance training as part of any workout routine at any level of fitness.
But what exercises should you do and which ones should you avoid?
Who should you trust when it comes to exercises for seniors?
Here are 4 exercises to get you started at home to assist in improving your balance:
Single leg balance
The Single-Leg Stance is one of a number of single-leg balance exercises for older adults. It can be safely performed by people of all ages and is a great balance and fall prevention exercise.
- Simply balance on one foot for at least 20-30 seconds
- You can hold lightly onto a chair or kitchen bench
- Hold this nice and still
Progression: Keep balancing on one leg and use the other leg to kick forward, side, back without losing balance!
Sit to stand
This exercise helps with everyday activity as it strengthens the muscles in your lower limbs. It also helps you get in and out of a chair, on and off the toilet, climb the stairs and step up and down off curbs.
- Start by sitting on a chair with good posture and place knees over toes
- Push down into your heels and lean slightly forward to stand up off the chair
- You can use your arms for some light assistance if required
- Sit back down and repeat for 30 seconds or try 10 repetitions
Progression: Keep your arms crossed throughout all the exercise. Try to only lightly touch the chair with your bottom in between each repetition. We can increase the intensity of the exercise by holding onto a weight of 2-5kg.
Calf raises is a great strength exercise to help improve balance and proprioception. Its is another movement pattern we perform every day particularly when we reach for something.
- Start by standing with your feet hip-distance apart
- Use a wall or chair for support if required
- Raise onto your toes as high as you can particularly your big toe to avoid rolling your ankle out
- Pause at the top for a moment and slowly control down
- Repeat this 10-20 repetition for 2-3 sets
Progression: Try single leg calf raises! You can also try calf raises on a foam mat or pillow to create an unstable surface.
Heel-toe walking (tandem walking)
This is a great exercise to help with your walking gait. Walking with a narrow base of support further challenges your balance.
- Start standing and use a line on the floor as reference (can be concrete gap/line, carpet lining, etc). You can use a wall or kitchen bench for some light assistance
- Walk-in a straight line with one foot immediately in front of the other (heel to toe), arms down by your side.
- Complete 3-5m and as best as possible stay on the line!
- Make sure you keep good posture
Progression: Try no assistance and keep your eyes up!
For older adults or the elderly still living at home, falling should not be considered expected. There are several things you can do to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground. Exercising is an excellent way to minimise the risk of falls as well as improving your overall balance, but you should speak with your Exercise Physiologist to help you put together an exercise program catered for you!
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
- Exercise, or exercise combined with other strategies, can help improve your balance and lower your risk of falls or falls that lead to injuries.
- Falling is not a natural consequence of aging but is the result of several age-related factors such as loss of muscle strength and balance.
- Speak with an accredited Exercise Physiologist to assist you with an individualised exercise program to improve your balance and reduce your risk of falls. Please take this as general advice only.
Remember, just take it one step, at a time 😉
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