Balance is key at any age. Without proper balance, falls are more likely to happen, and injuries are more likely to occur. Good balance reduces your risk of sprains, breaks, and falls, and all it takes is a few minutes of balance training each day. Proper balance requires you use your visual, spatial, and vestibular systems, and, as all three decrease with age, you need to make sure your balance and equilibrium are in tip top shape.
There are also two types of balance required to prevent falls. These are static (being still) and dynamic (moving) balance. If you want to test your balance, physical therapist Carole B. Lewis, PhD, and author of Geriatric Rehabilitation: A Clinical Approach, devised the following two short tests:
- Dynamic Test. Measure 10 feet and walk the 10 feet heel to toe, twice. Anyone should be able to walk 6 feet without falling or stopping, and, if you can’t do it, you’re at risk for falling and need to improve. You can practice to improve by walk alongside a wall and lightly touch the wall with your finger.
- Static Test. To determine how long you can stand on one leg, stand on one leg for thirty seconds and then switch legs. If you can do it, try the same thing with your eyes closed. At age thirty, with your eyes open, you should be able to stand without falling for at least thirty seconds. Unfortunately, as you age, the time you can balance on one leg decreases, and the only way you can improve is with practice.
If you’ve completed the above tests, you should have some idea on whether or not your need to improve your balance. If you need improvement, here’s some tips:
- Balance Improves With Practice. I know because I broke my right ankle and have been doing balance exercises for at least five months. I can stand about 1 1/2 minutes on each leg, and when I started I could barely stand on one leg for more than about twenty seconds.
- Balance Tools Help. There are a number of balance tools to help increase stability. I’ve written several posts on the BOSU balance trainer, and I’m telling you it’s great. It provides an unstable surface that your ankles and legs have to work hard to accommodate. It gives your ankle and leg muscles a good workout and allows you to practice balancing on an unsteady and uneven surface. If you want to learn more about the BOSU read How to Improve Your Balance and Strength. Another balance aid is the wobble board. A wobble board has a raised cone in the center and allows you to have a more challenging workout because it is an unsteady surface. Wobble boards are used for proprioceptive (the ability to sense the relative position of neighboring body parts) and rehabilitation exercise because they help improve balance and coordination.
- Yoga. Yoga improves your proprioceptive senses and body awareness. If you want to know about the different types of yoga, read Yoga Basics. If you already know yoga or want to practice balance, choose these poses (click on each one to see a demonstration): crane pose, triangle pose, tree pose, and plough pose.
- Uneven surfaces. If you don’t want to buy equipment or if you dislike yoga, you can still improve your balance by walking on uneven surfaces. Walk across a lawn, hike up a hill, or find an uneven brick patio, and give it a try. If you want more information on balance aids, read Balance Training.
Whatever decision you make to improve your balance, start slow. If you fall easily, work on achieve steadiness on even, steady surfaces first. Then move to more challenging balance exercises. For example, stand in front of a counter, lift one leg, and time yourself. If you start to fall, grab the counter. If that is too difficult, stand with your back close to a wall, put your legs together, and close your eyes for thirty seconds. If you fall backwards, keep practicing. I promise, the more you practice, the better balance you will achieve, and with better balance, you’ll be less likely to fall.