Standing steady on your own two feet may feel more challenging as you age. A loss of muscle mass can lead to balance issues and an increased chance of falling. Fortunately, you can gain strength back with exercise.
“With age comes degenerative changes that can diminish our ability to detect and respond effectively to challenges to our stability,” said Bruce Cathcart, MPT, a geriatric physical therapist with Baptist AgeWell Center for Health. Moving regularly with activities like hiking, dancing, aerobics, walking and pickleball can improve balance, build muscle and bone strength, and reduce the risk of falling.
There are steps you can take to boost your balance abilities.
“It’s more than a matter of fitness levels and equilibrium. Balance encompasses factors including overall health, physical status and brain function. Attaining and maintaining stability with good balance is a lifelong skill,” Cathcart said. “Specific exercise strategies can help improve these skills. A physical therapist who specializes in balance can perform a detailed assessment and prescribe an individualized plan of care to optimize a person’s ability to keep from falling.”
Though exercise can improve balance and prevent falls, not all seniors’ needs are the same.
“One person may be best keeping up with their ballroom dancing, versus another who may have balance problems requiring a more careful and guarded approach from an experienced professional,” Cathcart said.
“To decrease your risk of falling, aim for at least five hours per week of regular, specific balance and physical conditioning exercises, for a minimum of 12 weeks,” Cathcart said.
Below are some common exercises you may find at fitness classes or online that can help with balance.
- Tightrope walk: Extend your arms out to the side and walk in a straight line. With each step, raise your foot and hold the position for 2 to 3 seconds. Take 20 to 30 steps.
- Rock the boat: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Lift your arms and extend them out to the side. Lift your left foot off the floor and bend your knee to bring your heel toward your bottom. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds. Do each side 3 times.
- Weight shifts: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Shift your weight onto your right foot. Raise your left foot. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds. Do each side 3 times.
- Tree pose: From standing, shift your weight onto your right foot. Position your left foot to the side with your heel lifted or place the sole of your foot against your ankle, shin or thigh. (Avoid placing your foot on your knee.) Hold for up to 1 minute.
Talk to a physical therapist if you’d like extra guidance. In addition to developing a balance program for you or a loved one, he or she can help provide motivation and make sure you’re using good posture.
If you're concerned about balance issues as you age, you may benefit from an evaluation for Baptist AgeWell’s InBalance program. To learn more about this service and others specifically for seniors, call 904.202.4243.