You don't have to fall
Have you ever lost your footing on wet or icy pavement causing you to fling your arms in the air and sending your heart into high gear?
If you have then you know how frightening losing your balance can be.
Ordinarily we take our balance for granted, but it is an important and vital part of our daily life.
As many as 28% to 45% of elderly fall each year due to elderly balance decline as we age.
Though our balance will decline as we age, balance activities, elderly balance exercises and elderly balance training can limit the loss or actually improve our performance.
Most common reasons seniors fall
That is why beginning a balance program for elderly and seniors which incorporates strength training, endurance training and balance training is essential in maintaining and promoting good balance.
How does our balance work?
When we rise from a chair, climb stairs and walk outside on uneven terrain there is cooperation between the brain, nervous system, muscles and bones which help keep us from falling.
Sensory information from your eyes
Visual cues come from our eyes and tell us all sorts of information about our environment. Our eyes help us see and prepare for potential dangers and obstacles which can prevent falls.
Sensory information from your vestibular system
The inner ear also contains a fluid-filled semicircular canal which gives us important information on the position of our head and its movement in space in relation to gravity
Sensory information from your joints
Sensory feedback from your ankles, knees and hips, helps keep us upright and stable as we walk, run, or dance.
When all these systems are working together automatically with our musculoskeletal system we can stay active and independent, preventing falls and improving your elderly balance.
Can I keep or regain my balance?
I especially like working with the elderly and seniors on balance simply because it is a skill that many of us can keep during our adult life.
Though there are often many factors involved with decreased balance as we age, a lot of this decline is simply due to our inactivity.
This can usually be improved with training.
This training will involve improving your overall upper and lower body strength along with challenging your balance system daily with activities that require you to use the three systems I spoke of above.
Notice anything similar?
When I talk to seniors about balance, I use the example of how a tennis player's posture is similar to our posture as we age. Why? If you play tennis you know that there is a server and a receiver. Think of how the receiver stands. Feet wide apart, knees and hips flexed, upper body leaning forward.
Players use this posture because it is the most "ready for action" position they can get into in order to react to the serve.
It is a very stable and safe position.
That is usually also our choice as we age...finding the safest most balanced position.
Unfortunately, when we make this choice, our balance system is poorly challenged and our brain begins to become lazy.
Our brain says, "Well, Mary just doesn't need all that balance anymore. I'll start turning off some balance switches."
Oh...to be young again!
Here is another example. Have you ever watched women's gymnastics on the TV?
Have you ever wondered how a 16 year old young woman can jump onto a 4 inch wide beam way up in the air and do a handstand or flip?
Do you think any 16 year old young women could do that? Well the answer is "no".
Someone who does not practice this level of balance cannot perform these activities. (Yes, even if they are 16 years old!)
They will fall off the beam and embarrass themselves for sure!
There is a saying you may have heard but I put it in a different way.
If you are practicing something wrong, it will be PERMANENTLY wrong.
Are you practicing sitting in your recliner?
(Come on, be honest!!)
If you are, then you will certainly get better at sitting in your recliner!
Start practicing balance exercises. There are plenty on our site. Just keep reading...
Common sense balance: Learn the safest way to balance at home
Elderly balance exercises are challenging!
These exercises are intended for normal imbalance and unsteadiness in seniors as they age due to inactivity and disuse.
Start slowly with the first exercise until you become used to the new experience of stressing your balance system.
It is not a race to the finish.
You may be comfortable only performing the first few balance exercises and not be comfortable doing the moving and walking exercises.
That is ok! Really!
Never do something that you are nervous about by yourself.
Much better to have a helpful, stable person around to make you more confident and secure. What else are family members for?
Caution: Make sure you check with your doctor if you suspect a more serious balance problem involving vertigo, ear infections, Meniere’s disease, chronic dizziness or drug interactions.
The basic piece of equipment you will need is an armless chair. Usually a kitchen or dining room chair is just fine. This will give you confidence while performing your elderly balance exercises. Always keep the chair close by. It provides a great place to rest after exercising!
Smooth Bottom Shoes
Try not to wear shoes with tacky rubber or trail type shoes. These will catch on the carpet and floor which may result in tripping. I like a dance type shoe, one with a leather bottom. These allow a catch-free step. A dance shoe will also come in handy when you begin your dance class!
A kitchen counter to hold on to. This is a great place to walk when you are just beginning your balance exercise program. Simply hold on to the counter with one hand for balance while you step forward, sideways etc. Even if your counter is only a few feet long, just turn around and start again. Maybe you will be inspired to start cooking again!
Object to step over
I like children's stuffed animals or slippers. Make sure they are not over 6 inches high. That's all you need to step over during your stepping exercises. Don't get too ambitious and use that large stuffed panda bear!
Can't walk in a straight line? No problem. Take some handy painters tape, place a line of it down your hallway or in your living room. In our videos you will notice I have placed a piece of masking tape on the floor to follow along with. It is especially helpful with sideways movements as these are the hardest to remain straight when performing elderly balance exercises. Make sure you have some handy when you need to take a sobriety test!
Arm and ankle weights
To get more of a workout you may use ankle or wrist weights. Don't use more than one or two pounds for either your legs or arms. More weight than this may lead to shoulder injury due to holding your arm out away from your body. Who needs a gym!
Something to read
A sheet of paper or a notepad is a great item to add challenge to you walking exercises. As you will see in the video, try to walk while gazing at the paper. This advanced elderly balance exercise will improve your ability to walk comfortably in the supermarket or at the mall. Just don't charge too much!
Lastly we need YOU! This means that you can do it. I know you can. I have had every balance situation in my profession as a physical therapist. Remember to exercise everyday. 'Practice makes....permanent!' You will get better at whatever you practice every day. So don't practice sitting on the couch anymore!
Before You Start
Elderly balance exercises are fun but they can also be challenging.
Make sure you have a stable family member on hand when you begin to practice these exercises.
You will be more confident in performing the exercises and having a helping hand to hold will allow you to better focus on maintaining your balance as you get used to the exercises.
"Hey, uncle Charlie, can you hold on to me while I practice these silly exercises?"
Here we go!
I have made 12 elderly and senior balance exercise videos for you to view.
The exercises are a sampling of some basic balance exercises we use in Physical Therapy.
The exercises progress in difficulty from beginning to end.
If you use a cane or walking is difficult, make sure someone is with you for support. (Uncle Charlie!)
Remember, elderly and senior balance training can be a fun activity but will only show benefits if it is done regularly with the correct focus.
"Practice makes PERMANENT."
Practice one exercise every day for optimal results.
So get a stable family member, your chair, place it in a clear spot in your living room.
Put on your smooth bottom shoes and let's begin the beguine!
Here is a balance and agility exercise video from Eldergym Academy
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