Maintaining strong balance is one of the most important aspects of physical fitness and good health for any senior.
I’m in pretty decent shape – still working on it every day – and sometimes I find myself taking a step the wrong way or something, and losing my balance a little bit.
Sometimes, more than a little bit.
There have been times when it’s a good thing there was a wall nearby, so I could reach a hand out catch myself. Or a soft couch right there to fall back on.
Falling even slightly off-balance when stepping out of the shower or climbing out of the bathtub can be pretty unnerving at this age. So can losing my phone or my car keys, but that's a different story.
My dad has taken serious tumbles a number of times in recent years, and broken all kinds of things – his arm, shoulder, back, leg, hip. Now, he sits full-time in a wheelchair, and hopes to build enough strength someday to be able to walk again. I know I never want to wind up like that.
According to some statistics, more than two million older Americans seek medical treatment every year for injuries caused by falls. Sometimes, those injuries prove life-threatening.
Good balance is important.
If balance is an issue, always check with your doctor first, but there also are plenty of simple exercises we older folks can do at home to build strength and keep those neurons firing efficiently to help maintain smooth proprioception – the awareness of the position and movement of various body parts in relation to one another.
Working properly, these neuromuscular systems make quick adjustments when balance goes awry.
One such exercise involves standing directly behind a chair that is strong and sturdy, and does not tip over easily. Place one hand on the back of the chair, and the other hand on your hip. Lift one leg and bend the knee just a little. Hold that pose for a count of 10, then relax.
Do nine more repetitions, for a total of 10, then switch sides and lift the other leg. When possible, progress the movement to lifting each leg off the floor for 10 reps without holding on to the chair.
Another balance exercise is also a single-leg raise. Stand with feet hip-width apart, facing forward, hands on hips. Lift one leg just off the floor, without bending at the knee, and point your toes forward. Alternate which leg you raise off the floor. Gradually increase the distance you’re able to lift your foot off the ground and hold it there for 10 seconds.
You can also perform the same single-leg raise, bringing each foot out to the side for 10 reps. Hold onto a chair if you need to, then progress to both hands on hips.
Some other simple exercises you can do at home include something called wall push-ups. This is where you stand facing a wall, toes about 12-18 inches back, leaning forward slightly with palms flat against the wall at shoulder height. Slowly bend your elbows to lower your body toward the wall, as close as you can get without too much strain. Then, straighten your elbows and return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times. Work your way up to two sets of 10, then three sets.
Body-weight squats are good for the legs. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, feet facing forward, hands on hips. Slowly lower yourself, rear end toward the floor, maintaining a good upright posture, until you feel tension in your quadriceps and hamstrings (upper thigh muscles), maybe the glutes. Return smoothly to starting position, and
repeat for 8-10 reps.
Daily exercise can not only prolong your life, but make your overall quality of life a lot better. Most experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. That's only 20-30 minutes a day. Start slowly and gradually increase duration and intensity. Remember to consult your doctor with any concerns, and don't be afraid
to join a gym, even hire a personal trainer to help you get off to a rocking good start.