A good sense of balance is something most of us take for granted – until the day it fails us. As you age, maintaining your balance is vitally important for your health. A fall can result in pain, injuries, hospital stays, lack of mobility and can cause ongoing health concerns that affect your quality of life.
According to the Australian and New Zealand Falls Prevention society, approximately 30% of adults aged over 65 experience at least one fall each year. But the good news is, there is lots you can do to avoid becoming a statistic.
Like most things to do with your health, when it comes to falls, prevention is far better than the cure. So, no matter how good (or bad) your balance is right now, if you’re keen to be proactive and avoid falls in later life, read on to discover three ways you can begin to improve your balance today.
Repetitive Daily Exercises
Integrating a few short but effective exercises into your daily life can yield great benefits. Here are some easy things you can do at home that, when practised regularly, can significantly increase your balance:
- Stand on one leg: You can do this while you brush your teeth, wash the dishes or watch TV. Just stand on one leg for 30 seconds on each side. Once you’ve got this down pat, you can increase the difficulty by doing it with your eyes closed or standing on a pillow.
- Walk heel to toe: This exercise is perhaps best known as the ‘sobriety field test’ but it’s also great for balance. Walk in a straight line, heel to toe for 20 steps, then repeat the exercise as you walk backwards.
- Balance walk: Stretch your arms out parallel at shoulder height and pick a spot to focus on. Walk slowly forward for 20 steps, lifting your back leg up and bringing it forward deliberately in an exaggerated motion.
These are just a starting point – for more ideas ask your GP, physiotherapist or check reputable online sources.
Build Your Strength and Fitness
It should come as no surprise that active people generally have a higher level of balance. According to the Mayo Clinic, almost any activity that gets you up and going will help you maintain good balance. Walking is an enjoyable way to stay fit and get outdoors, while also improving the strength of your lower limbs which will aid your stability. Strength training can also be particularly beneficial. A study of adults ranging from 65 to 82 years of age found that those who performed leg extensions and lower curl exercises over a period of 12 weeks showed significantly higher levels of lower limb strength and balance than those in the control group who did not do the training.
To gain the most balance benefits from your exercise and strength training, it’s a good idea to get advice from an expert to discover the ideal routine for you. And remember, before you start any new exercise program you should always talk to your health care professional, especially if you have an existing injury or ailment.
Find an Activity That Appeals and Take a Class
Another option is to take up an activity that you enjoy that has the added benefit of enhancing your sense of balance. Joining a class is ideal, as you’ll get guidance and feedback from your teacher to ensure the best results. You can also search YouTube for an online tutorial, to get a feel for the activity to see if it’s right for you before you try a class. Here are some ideas:
- Yoga: Easily adapted to suit your age, expertise and level of fitness, regular yoga practice is very beneficial for your balance. Two poses that are ideal for enhancing balance are the tree pose and dolphin plank pose, but there are many more.
- Tai Chi: Well known for its balance enhancing properties, tai chi is an ancient exercise that involves slow, controlled movements. A meta-analysis of 10 trials showed a significant reduced risk of falls when tai chi was practised. There are also specific tai chi falls prevention classes available, both in person and online.
- Ballroom Dance: Many older adults are realising the many benefits to ballroom dancing – including improved balance. Regular dancing will improve your flexibility, coordination and posture, which all contribute to increased stability. It will also help you become ‘quicker on your feet’ so if you do find yourself off balance, you’re more able to recover and potentially avoid falling.
Start Small and Make Big Changes
Even small changes like adding some simple balancing exercises to your routine a few times a day can improve your stability surprisingly fast. And when you add to this some regular exercise or an activity known to reduce the risk of falls, your confidence, balance and overall health will get a major boost.
Over to You
Do you have a favourite activity or exercise you have discovered that really helps your balance? We’d love you to share! Simply post a comment below or visit us on Facebook.
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