By Lori Vance
Most younger people don’t worry about their balance, but perhaps they should. Balance training earlier in life will benefit you later. Even if you’ve never thought about your balance, it’s never too late to improve.
As we age, many things contribute to decreased balance including muscle loss (sarcopenia), reduced proprioception, reduced strength and agility, and vision or inner ear issues.
For older people, falls can result in devastating, life-changing consequences. Here are a few ideas to work on balance and fall prevention.
Start with the easy stuff and work from there. Begin by standing in a normal, hip width stance. Next, narrow your stance so that your feet are close together. If that’s easy, try going into a split stance, with one foot forward and one foot back, with several inches between your feet. Then try a heel-toe stance where the toes of one foot are touching the heel of the other.
Now try adding some movement. Remaining in the heel-toe stance, begin slowly rotating the shoulders and head to one side and then the other side.
Step out of it at any point if you need to return to a wider foot position or do it next to a wall or chair if you need more support.
Try standing on one foot and be sure that the ankle doesn’t roll in. If it does, consciously lift through your arch and roll your ankle the tiniest bit outward to help you stabilize. Think of stacking your weight on that leg and remember that your center of gravity will be different. Then add in shoulder and head turns.
Another option is trying any of the above balancing positions, but reducing the advantage your eyes give you. Begin by closing one eye, then open and close the other eye. If you’re able to, you can close both eyes. Notice how much of a difference that makes in making the exercise harder.
Other options if you have them available to you are standing on a Bosu trainer or small balance disc. These will challenge your balance and help strengthen muscles in the foot, ankle, and lower leg. Just be sure to be near a wall or something else you can hang onto if you feel the need at any point.
One of my favorite exercises is doing the heel toe walk, either on the floor or on a low balance beam. Try going forward and then backward.
Finally, here are foot and leg exercises beneficial to balance:
Lifting through the arches and slightly supinating (the outward roll of the foot) at the angles mentioned earlier; be sure to do this only on a stable surface.
On a stair, you can do heel drops and lifts to strengthen calf muscles.
Sitting and standing to a chair or low bench repeatedly will strengthen your upper leg muscles, especially the quadriceps, which are some of the largest in the body. They are also some of the most muscles important in terms of daily function.
Now you just have to practice and put them in your schedule to do regularly. Balance is important.
Body Image Fitness, LLC
Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a healthcare professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.