As discussed in an earlier blog- balance is the body’s coordination of three systems, vestibular, visual and the feedback from your joints that help to keep us upright. Your balance needs to be practised on a regular basis in order to decrease your risk for falling. The following activities will help to improve and maintain your balance.
1. Sit to stand (AKA chair squats)
Strength is an important component of balance. Sit to stand from a chair without using the armrests, is an easy and effective way to improve your leg strength and it is a dynamic activity that challenges your balance. You can also increase the difficulty of this activity by adding weights. Complete 10 times every time before you eat a meal.
2. Change your base of support while doing exercises
Challenge your balance by using different bases of support. For example, try feet close together, tandem-one in front of the other or standing on one leg. An adult should be able to maintain balance for 30 seconds in all those positions with eyes open. Practice should be completed daily.
3. Close your eyes
By closing your eyes, the input of vision is lost, thus the other systems have to work harder. Do your sit to stand or standing on one foot with your eyes closed. Try your biceps curls in standing with eyes closed, try brushing your teeth standing on one foot with your eyes closed! All of these activities can help to reduce your risk of falling.
4. Stepping programs with a cognitive skill
Stepping programs such as Otago Exercise Program and FaME (Falls Management Exercise) are well established and evidenced-based exercise programs that you can find online. The next level is to complete those stepping programs but overlay it with a cognitive skill, i.e. name the months of the year backwards, or counting backwards from 100 by 7’s. Many falls happen when people are multi-tasking and this is a way to maintain your current level of activity and add that cognitive challenge. Programs like Otago and FaME require about 50 hours of practice over 6 months to see and receive full benefits.
5. Walk or exercise on challenging terrain
Safely walking on challenging terrain will improve your balance and reduce your risk of falling. For example, walk on grass up and down hills, try stepping on and off a cushion in your home, or complete your weights while standing on a Bosu ball. The small perturbations in your centre of gravity while on uneven terrain strengthen your body’s ability to react and maintain your balance.
Adding balance activities 2-3 times per week will improve your balance, strengthen your muscles, vision and reaction times will all contribute to decreasing your risk for falls.
Article Written by Laura Doyle, Registered Physiotherapist BHSc (PT), B.Ed., B. KIN
As a registered physiotherapist, Laura works at McMaster Family Practice. She sees patients while promoting healthy living and aging along acute and chronic health conditions. Laura is a Member of the Momentum community who makes time at lunch to workout. She is passionate about moving every day to maximize function and fitness throughout the lifespan.