Posted September 24, 2021 by 2021 by Charles A. Zonfa, MD, FACOG | Chief Medical Office
Losing your balance is no laughing matter. It’s one thing to be clumsy and trip over the rug from time to time, but falling is one of the most dangerous medical issues facing older people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four adults over age 65 takes a serious fall each year.
Maybe you feel less stable walking downstairs these days or pivoting on the tennis court isn’t as easy. Whatever it is, there are many reasons you might feel unsteady on your feet as you age.
Aging can affect the several body systems responsible for balance, such as vision, your brain and vestibular system (the balance organs in your inner ear). In addition, side effects from medications or chronic conditions, such as arthritis, stroke and neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, can affect your brain and central nervous system.
The good news is there are exercises you can do to improve your balance and mobility, while reducing your risk of falls and injuries. SummaCare offers 7 ways to strengthen your core and lower-body muscles to get steadier on your feet. It might just help you stay independent longer and more easily carry out your daily activities.
- One-legged stand: Start by holding yourself steady on the back of a heavy chair. Bending at the knee, lift one leg to knee level and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 10-15 times and switch to the other leg. As it gets easier, you could even try this while doing the dishes or waiting in line at the grocery store.
- Weight shifts: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, lean slowly toward one leg until it’s bearing all your weight and lift the other foot off the floor. Hold for up to 30 seconds and move to the other side. To make it more challenging, close one or both of your eyes.
- Heel-to-toe walks: Walk slowly in a straight line, touching your heel to your opposite foot’s toe. Do this for about 20 paces along the wall, if necessary. Then, walk backward, heel to toe, in a straight line. As it becomes easier, try increasing the number of steps and don’t use the wall for support.
- Yoga and Pilates: To keep your balance, you need strong core muscles that can hold you steady as you stand, walk or make other movements. Pilates includes moves that help you stretch and strengthen your core, back and lower body, while holding yoga poses naturally challenges and improves your sense of balance.
- Tai chi: A form of mind-body movement training, tai chi incorporates a series of slow, meditated poses that gradually shift your weight and extend your limbs to challenge your balance. Recent studies have shown practicing tai chi can improve balance, stability and flexibility in older adults and those with Parkinson’s disease.
- Aerobics and strength training. Lower-body exercises are beneficial in keeping your legs strong to reduce your risk for falls and balance issues. Walking, biking and climbing stairs strengthen muscles in your lower body. If you’re unsteady, try a stationary bike or stair stepper to start. Also, simply lifting weights with machines or doing bodyweight exercises, such as squats or lunges, can also build muscles in your lower body to steady yourself.
- Try new tools. There are many exercise tools available at the gym or for purchase that can help you improve your balance. Stand on a balance board, circular boards with a sphere underneath, which helps improve balance and agility. You can also do exercises on a stability ball to strengthen your abs and back. Stability balls also can be used as a weight bench, so you can strengthen your muscles and work on balance at the same time.
It’s important to find balance in all areas of your life, and that should include your body, too. Research has shown regularly doing the right exercises can help people at any age or ability level dramatically improve their balance.