Older Adult Wellness: Balance
A common theme among older adults is the realization that their balance isn’t quite as good as it was in their younger years. As people age they begin to feel unsteady on their feet, unsure of their steps on uneven surfaces, and hesitant about walking in low light.
While some decline is natural, balance is like any other skill. It takes practice in order to maintain optimal function. Good balance is important in daily functions such as getting out of a car, bending to pick something up, and walking without staggering or tripping.
One of the most common mistakes people make as they start to feel unsure of their balance is compensating by shortening their steps or shuffling their feet. Though those actions may feel secure at the time, ultimately they are detrimental.
If the body is not challenged to adapt to unsteadiness, it will have no reason to retain balance skills. When strides are shortened, muscles and neurons are no longer forced to fire in a way they would if a strong, normal stride was taken. To keep your balance strong, pick up your feet and take normal strides while walking.
Another key factor in balance is muscular strength. Muscles in the legs must engage and activate in order to keep us upright. Muscular strength decreases naturally if we don’t take action to maintain strength as we age. Therefore, a regular exercise regimen that includes leg strengthening exercises is vital to aging successfully.
Standing leg lifts to the side are a great way to focus on strength while practicing balance.
• Begin by standing in front of something stable for support if needed.
• Stand up tall and while keeping your leg straight lift it out to the side and slowly lower it to the starting position.
• Keep your toe pointing forward throughout the motion and avoiding leaning to the side by staying tall in the torso.
• If you are unable to do the exercise with your hands by your side, hold very lightly to the stable support and gradually work away from using it all.
You can also practice balance specific exercises in order to hone your skills.
• Position yourself near something stable for support if needed.
• Place your feet about shoulder width apart and close your eyes.
• Push up on your toes slowly and lift the heels from the ground.
• Slowly lower back to flat feet and repeat. Focus on pushing up on the toes as much as possible while keeping the eyes closed.
From fall prevention to daily living, balance is a huge component of successful aging. To maintain peak function and independence start practicing this essential skill by incorporating strength and balance specific exercises into your day.