According to Dr. Anthony Komaroff of Harvard Medical School, the definition of balance is “the ability to distribute your weight in a way that enables you to hold a steady position or move at will without falling.” Balance isn’t always a problem for seniors. If you are a healthy, active senior, your balance may be perfectly intact. However, if your balance and mobility do start to decrease, it could be because of a few factors. For example, if you have a history of injuries like concussions, serious fractures or sprains, or even ear infections, you are at risk for poor balance. Along with a history of injuries, if you have deteriorating health, that could be a cause as well. Strokes, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes can all contribute to unsteadiness in seniors. This is why it is important to add balance exercises into your daily routine. Here are five examples of moderate balance strengthening exercises that you can do in the comfort of your home:
One-legged balance- This move is for beginners and will help build or maintain good balance. For this exercise, you will start on either your right or left leg. You can keep a chair nearby or use a wall in case you have to reach out to re-center your weight. Raise one leg about three inches above the ground and hold this position first with your eyes open and then with them closed. Do this on each leg for a minimum of four repetitions.
Leg swings- Start this exercise on your right leg. Raise your left leg approximately six inches off the floor and swing your leg forward and backward. If you need to, for the first couple of repetitions you can touch your foot to the floor for balance, but ultimately, you want to end the exercise keeping your foot off the ground. Complete your repetitions and switch legs! (Repetitions can be whatever you feel you can handle).
One-legged squat- Positioning your feet hips width apart, step your right leg out, your big toe touching the ground for added balance. With your chest up, eyes forward and knee slightly bent already, squat down in a seated position (go as far as you can without straining your body). Make sure to pick a point on a wall that is right in front of you, it will help you balance better.
Single leg dead lift- In this exercise, you can use 5-10 pound weights, but for beginners it is ok to not use any weight at all. Start by standing on your left leg. Engage your torso and slowly reach down to the floor with your right hand. Make sure you squeeze your buttocks and keep your back straight throughout the entire exercise. Remember, form is more important than the amount of repetitions you do.
One-legged clock with arms- This one is a little bit more difficult, but very beneficial. You will start out by balancing on one leg. With your torso facing straight forward and your hands on your hips, you will visualize a clock in front of you. Once you see it, you will point your arm to the 3, the 6, the 9 and the 12 without losing your balance. Make sure to circle low when you point to the 6 (giving a little bend in the knee). Do this for as many repetitions as you can handle and switch legs.
Dr. Anthony Komaroff highlights the importance of balance exercises when he answers the question “Why are balance exercises important as we age?” using this one specific statistic: “Every year, one in three adults 65 or older falls at least once.” As you get older, falls can be more serious. In fact, according to Komaroff, “90% of all hip fractures result from falls.” Being active and doing balance exercises can reduce your risk of falling significantly. It is never too late to improve!