While these missteps or mishaps are often attributed to “being clumsy”, they are in fact a sign that our balance is declining. An intact sense of balance is what helps us walk without staggering, stand up from a chair without teetering, climb stairs without tripping and bend over without falling. Unfortunately, as we age, maintaining good balance can sometimes be a challenge.
A declining sense of balance is more than just an annoyance — it can cause serious injury. In fact, more than a third of adults age 65 or older will experience a fall each year, and up to 30% of them will suffer a moderate or severe injury, such as a broken hip. Fortunately, there are several exercises you can do at home to improve your coordination and balance. Try some of these at home, and you might be surprised at the improvement you’ll see in just a few weeks. Just make sure you have another person with you, or a chair or railing within reach, to help you steady yourself and avoid a fall.
Standing on one foot: Stand on one foot behind a chair, railing or facing another person, and hold this position for up to 10 seconds. Repeat 10 to 15 times and then switch legs, balancing for up to 10 seconds 10-15 times on the other leg.
Walking heel to toe: Position the heel of one foot in front of the toes of the other foot, with your heel and toes just touching or almost touching. Focus on a spot ahead of you in order to keep steady as you walk, and take each step by placing your heel in front of the toe of your other foot.
Balance walk: Raise your arms to your sides at shoulder height. Find a spot ahead of you to focus on to help keep you steady. Walk in a straight line with one foot in front of the other. As you walk, lift your back leg, pause for one second and then finish stepping forward.
Leg raises: Stand behind a chair and hold on with one or both hands for balance. Slowly lift one leg straight back without bending your knee, pointing your toe or leaning forward. Hold for one second, then lower leg. Repeat 10-15 times, then switch legs. Then try lifting each leg to the side while keeping your back straight. Repeat 10-15 times for each leg.
Doing these exercises will help you improve your balance and reduce the risk of falling. As you progress and find the exercises getting easier, begin to modify them by relying less on the chair, railing or your partner.
You might also try Tai Chi — an ancient practice of slow, coordinated movements that emphasizes weight shifting and postural alignment to help improve balance.
This article first appeared in the July/August 2019 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.