5 Exercises to Prevent Falls & Improve Your Balance

               As we age some of the biggest deficits we notice in our physical fitness are in the area of balance. Balance is an integral part of every movement that we make in our everyday lives, and is a key component of any kind of fitness activity.

Balance degrades over time because of its reliance on vision, the inner-ear, and muscular strength, all of which tend to decline with age. You may not consider yourself to be at-risk for consequences of decreased balance (such as falls), but that is all the more reason to work at your balance skills now – before they become an issue that impacts your ability to complete your activities of daily living!

Fall prevention is one of the key focuses for balance interventions. Working to prevent falls is important because of the potential health consequences that can come from a nasty tumble.

Falls most commonly occur in the bathroom (e.g. getting in and out of the bathtub), on stairs, in the bedroom (especially getting up in the morning), and outside (especially on uneven ground).

There are many interventions that are important in the prevention of falls, such as modifications to your house’s layout, the installation of grab bars, and the use of proper footwear.

Aside from these technical interventions, the best forms of balance intervention are simple exercises that will maintain or improve your current level of balance and strength.

These exercises, such as the five included in this article, can be completed at home, with simple equipment, and require less than twenty minutes of your time. Don’t let the perceived ‘easy-ness’ of these exercises deceive you – some of them can become quite difficult, so work up to the harder variations slowly and cautiously!

You should find ways to incorporate these balance exercises into your daily schedule so that your balance, strength, and stability levels are maintained over the next several decades of your life.

 

Exercise 1 – Weight Shifts

               Weight shifts increase your stability while training your muscles to support you while you are involved in forms of movement that require weight to be transferred from one leg to another. As we age, it is common for us to develop a ‘shuffling’ gait instead of picking up our feet properly.

This exercise is an excellent way to ensure that your legs remain strong enough to allow for proper paces, and that your balance is advanced enough that walking while picking your legs high off the ground will not cause a loss of stability.

               To complete this exercise, stand with your legs shoulder width apart. Focus your eyes ahead of you on a fixed point. Transfer all of your weight to one leg, and then lift the other leg off the ground to the side.

Keep your trunk strong and upright – resist the temptation to lean forwards or to the side to compensate for the transfer of weight. Try to hold your leg off the ground for 20 seconds before returning it to the floor. Repeat on the other leg.

               When you first attempt this exercise you may find that you require a chair to hold on to. Try to use the support sparingly and only when needed so that you receive the full benefits of this exercise. As you become more advanced at this skill, try moving your leg further and further off the ground until you are able to reach (and hold) your foot at a 45-degree angle from your other leg. As a final level of difficulty for those who experience little or no difficulty with their balance, try to perform this exercise while standing on a thin pillow. This exercise is sure to strengthen all of your leg and core muscles used while stabilizing your body during any form of activity.

 

Exercise 2 – Body Circles

               The body circles exercise is another important exercise for stability and balance because it exaggerates the adjustments your body needs to make both while standing or sitting still and while engaging in movement activities.

This trains your body to adapt to micro-shifts in your balance that occur constantly throughout the day – whether walking, standing on a bus, or turning around.

               This exercise is deceptively simple. At the simplest level, stand with your feet rooted to the ground shoulder-width apart. Stand up tall, and focus your eyes on a fixed point ahead of you. Place your arms straight out to the side, or you may want to have a chair or counter nearby for additional balance the first few times you attempt this exercise.

Keeping your feet rooted to the ground, move your body in a circle, transferring your weight from your heels, to the side of your feet, to your toes, to the opposite side of your feet. Circle in one direction ten times before changing the direction of your body circles.

               For more of a challenge, try bringing your arms in closer to your body, your feet closer together, standing on a pillow, or even closing your eyes while you sway. Please only make one modification to an exercise at a time to prevent dizziness or falls!

 

 

Exercise 3 – Dynamic Walking/Movement

               As we age, it becomes much less common for us to be engaged in physical activities that require us to perform more than one physical skill at a time.

For example, when we jog or walk, that tends to take our full concentration. This can be detrimental to our balance because it trains our bodies to only focus on one posture while running or walking, making us more susceptible to falls when we are trying to multitask while moving or if we are distracted in the middle of performing an activity.

To combat these issues, all you need to do is to include some dynamic walking or moving into your daily life. These exercises can be easily fit in during commercial breaks, or even on your regular morning walk or jog.

The easiest way of simulating distracted movement is to read a piece of paper while moving at whatever pace feels comfortable to you. After you are able to do this comfortably, begin moving your head back and forth while walking in a straight line.

This distraction interferes with your visual balance cues, helping your muscles to learn the proper response to maintain balance when visual cues are not reliable.

 

 

Exercise 4 – Sit to Stand

               A surprising number of falls occur when individuals are moving from a sitting position to a standing posture. However, when you consider the number of muscular adjustments required to make this shift, a loss of balance becomes easier to understand.

This is one situation where no alternative exercise can beat the simple practice of this movement. If you already struggle with moving from sitting to standing, begin using a chair that has armrests.

If you have little or no difficulty moving from a chair to standing, try to complete the movement while crossing your arms across your chest. This variation ensures that you strengthen your legs and core muscles, instead of relying on your upper body strength.

This exercise should be repeated several times each day, and ideally several times in a row each time that you need to move from sitting to standing.

Exercise 5 – Walking exercises

               A final important exercise for improving balance and stability while active has to do with training your body to remain stable even when your weight is distributed differently than in your typical gait.

There are three variations to this exercise, all of which require an empty hallway. The first variation is ‘heel-to-toe’ walking – walk down an empty hallway with your back straight and eyes fixed straight ahead.

The trick is that each step you take, you must place the heel of your moving foot to the toe of the planted foot.

               The second variation of this exercise is “heel walking”, where you walk down the hallway on only the heels of your feet. The third variation, “toe walking”, is similar, but you complete your lap of the hallway walking only on your toes.

These exercises may be surprisingly difficult, so have someone on-hand if you have any concerns about completing this exercise.

If, however, you find that these exercises are not challenging enough, try to complete the variations while walking down the hallway with your eyes closed.

 

               Balance and stability are skills essential for completing nearly all of our activities of daily living. Even if you have yet to notice any difficulties with your balance, beginning these exercises now is an amazing way of ensuring that you will experience a limited decline in your balance capabilities as time passes.

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field