As a Physiotherapist, I often get the impression that there’s a belief and an acceptance out there that our balance inevitably deteriorates as we get older.
Good balance is essential for a happier and well-lived daily life, from the specific getting out of bed, negotiating stairs and crossing the road, to all of the physical challenges that we have to and choose to do.
What causes balance problems?
Balance disorders and dizziness
The big-words one first: BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo) is a disorder of the inner ear resulting in dizziness on certain head movements. Alongside basic strength and co-ordination, a healthy balance system uses information from the brain, inner ears, eyes, and joints, and enables people to see clearly when moving their head. BPPV is relatively common and its prevalence increases with age. I’m discussing a different element of how to improve your balance today but I will return to the issue of dizziness-related balance in a future article.
Vision for most of us will deteriorate as we get older and the chances of suffering from an eye-related disorder also increases. It’s important – and really very easy – to get our eyesight checked regularly so that glasses can be issued and modified as necessary and any specific eye problems can be picked up and dealt with.
A long-term health condition
E.g. heart disease, dementia and low blood pressure. It’s important to be health-aware and see your GP if you are displaying any health symptoms that you’re concerned about. Proper management of any of the above conditions can make us feel better able to cope and can help with our balance, reduce our risk of falls and improve our quality of life.
This is the biggie that I’m discussing today. We do change physiologically as we age, a topic that I’ve discussed in a previous article. One critical factor is that starting at age 30, our muscles can lose 8% of their strength every decade. (Yes that age bracket includes YOU youngsters!) This means that by the time we’re 80 years old, we can have lost 40% of our muscle strength. Falls and their potentially serious consequences are the end-result but a generalised wobbliness and gradual loss of balance-ability can be irritating and frustrating and slowly reduce the things you’re able to do.
Age and current balance-ability aside, there is one simple thing that we can ALL do to improve our balance:
A few key exercises, done a little and often and with focus & challenge involved can make a BIG difference…
Which exercises can improve balance?
Below are 6 little moves that we can all do to help improve and maintain our balance. repeat each once x 10. I’ve started with a super-simple version and suggested ways to make each harder underneath, so find the level that suits you – falling over whilst doing balance practice is not what we’re aiming for, making the move difficult but manageable is.
Motivation a problem? It is for every single one of us. Help yourself to side-step this by making any exercise a part of your day – standing ones whilst the kettle boils, listening to the radio, when you’re bored or momentarily unengaged and walking ones whilst walking somewhere anyway
(The exercises are recommended by the Chartered Society for Physiotherapy and can also be viewed in the video that follows.)
1 – Heel Raises
Stand, holding onto a steady support if needed. Rise up steadily as far as you can onto tiptoes, pause here for 3 seconds and then slowly return to the start position.
Suggestions for making heel raises harder: do them standing on one leg; turn your head from side to side whilst keeping your eyes focused forward; harder – let your eyes track with your head movement; close your eyes; any combo of these…
2 – Toe Raises
Stand, holding onto a steady support if needed. Lift your toes off the floor, transferring your weight to your heels. Stand tall and keep your bottom in. Hold this position for 3 seconds and then slowly lower your toes to the floor.
Suggestions for making toe raises harder: stand on one leg; close your eyes…
3 – Heel-Toe Stand
Stand, holding onto a steady support if needed. Place one foot directly in front of the other and take your hands off the support, balancing for 10 seconds if you can. Repeat with the other foot in front.
Suggestions for making heel-toe stand harder: add in some body leaning by raising an arm out to your side and leaning in this direction, harder if you turn your head at the same time/close your eyes/squat down to the floor and then stand back up…
4 – One-Leg Stand
Stand on one leg, let go of any support and stand unsupported for 10 seconds; keep the supporting knee soft i.e. slightly bent. Repeat on the other leg.
Suggestions for making one-leg stand harder: body leans as for heel-toe stand, harder still if you follow your lean with head and eyes and more so if you add in a squat movement…
5 – Heel-Toe Walk
Heel-Toe Walk: Stand, by a support e.g. sideboard if needed. Walk in a heel-toe motion as for 3 above for 10 steps, looking forward as you do so.
Suggestions for making heel-toe walk harder: a) try this on a narrow surface e.g. plank, pavement kerb…
6 – Sit-to-Stand
Sit-to-Stand: Stand with a chair behind you. Slowly and in a controlled fashion lower yourself into the chair, avoiding using hands to assist if possible. Reverse to rise out of the chair.
Suggestions for making sit-to-stand harder: a) pretend there’s a chair there e.g. do this as a squat exercise (I’ve discussed ‘squats’ before here) do the movement slower or faster and get lower – a sitting surface can be at any height…
There are more ways to improve our physical health than most of us could ever fit into our days. Variety that challenges carried out a little and often will pay dividends – see what you can do!