Why Balance Is the #1 Key to Staying Independent and Healthy as You Age
Healthy Aging | 11/15/21
Of all the maladies and conditions that can strip older adults of their independence, an unsteady gait leading to falls is one of the most concerning. According to the National Institutes of Health, each year, 29 million falls result in 27,000 deaths and 7 million injuries requiring medical treatment or restricted activity for at least one day.
Many seniors fool themselves into thinking, “I’m careful and hold on to things when I walk, so there’s no danger of me falling.” But statistics reveal otherwise. Up to 45% of older adults fall each year due to a decline in balance. Unsteadiness isn’t simply an annoyance; it can lead to debilitating injury, put you in a wheelchair for life, and can contribute to death.
But instead of being frightened into never leaving home, let these statistics motivate you to become stronger. You have the power to significantly decrease your chances of falling from poor balance and actually improve your balance by practicing balance exercises for seniors and engaging in regular senior balance training.
Why Do Seniors Fall?
Below is a short list of why seniors are prone to falls with serious consequences. How many symptoms do you recognize?
- Weakness in hips and legs
- Poor posture from weakened muscles and/or spinal degeneration
- Increasing difficulty lifting your feet and maintaining proper gait
- Slower reaction time when it comes to floor obstacles
- Low blood pressure or medication interfering with balance or causing lightheadedness
- Poor vision and/or undiagnosed inner ear issues that affect your vestibular system
Balance is a complex motor issue involving a cooperative effort among our brains, visual and aural senses, nervous system, muscles, and bones. Issues can arise at any age of course, but as we age, the sensory information from these vital systems tend to break down.
If any one or more of them is “off, ” the chances of losing your balance and falling are greatly increased, and the ability to lead an independent, active lifestyle is greatly decreased.
Important Pre-Exercise Tips
Balance training typically involves a combination of strength training, endurance training and specific balance exercises. The goal is to improve your upper and lower body strength, and help your brain and nervous system “relearn” the art of good balance.
Check with your doctor before you begin
As a senior beginning a new exercise regimen, it’s important to see your primary care physician for a checkup first to make sure there are no underlying health factors or illnesses contributing to your balance concerns. Among other things, your doctor will likely check for conditions such as:
- Meniere’s disease
- Drug interactions
- Ear infections
- Blood pressure
- Heart issues
Follow these suggestions to get started
Take it slow. Pace yourself until you become familiar and confident with each exercise.
Don’t push yourself to do more exercises or more repetitions than you feel you can handle initially.
Exercise with a younger family member or health aide to feel more secure.
Have the right equipment, including:
- Sturdy armless chair (no wheels!)
- Regular-height counter
- Shoes with a smooth leather sole (ridged rubber soles can catch and cause you to fall)
- Soft objects like small toy or small pillow to step over that are not more than 6 inches high
- Painter’s tape set out out in straight line
- When you become more advanced and confident, you can try adding light ankle and arm weights
8 Excellent Balance Exercises for Seniors
The number one fall prevention tip to remember when you begin any exercises to improve balance for seniors is to do what you can now, and then work toward new goals for hold times and repetitions. Everyone’s health and strength are different!
- Single Leg Lifts: Stand behind your sturdy chair and place your hands on the back. Lift one foot off the ground and balance on the other one. Hold it for as long as you can and then switch. Your goal is one minute for each leg.
- Heel-to-Toe Walk: Put your left foot in front of the right so they touch heel to toe. Put weight first to the heel of the front foot, and then to the toes. Repeat with your right foot and so on while moving forward. Try to take 20 steps in this fashion.
- March in Place: This one is great for a little cardio as well as balance and coordination. Hold on to a counter or sturdy chair with one hand, stand up straight, and lift one knee up at least to calf level … higher if you can. Alternate legs, lifting and lowering 20 times.
- Toe Lifts: Yes, a strong set of toes is essential for balance. For this exercise, stand up straight and keep your arms out in front of you either placed on a counter or holding onto a chair back. Slowly raise up on your toes as high as you can, then gently lower back down to flat feet. Try not to lean forward as you raise up and down. Your goal is 20 times.
- Staggered Standing: A bit similar to #2, but in this case, you hold the stance rather than advancing forward. Stand with your feet together with hands at sides. Step forward with one foot and hold the position for 10 seconds. Alternate stance with the other foot and repeat 20 times total.
- Sit-to-Stand: This is an action we do many times a day, whether it’s getting up from the couch or from a toilet seat! It can get tougher with age. To do this one, sit and scoot your hips to the edge of your chair. Bring your toes back so they’re lined up under your knees and stand up. You can use your arms to push up off the chair. To sit down, bend a little at your knees first. This pushes your hips toward the chair, allowing you to lower your body to the seat. Pause and repeat. Do this exercise up to 10 times a day if you can.
- Reach Around the Clock: This one is great for flexibility as well as balance. You are the center of the clock — 12 is out front, 6 is in the back. Use your left hand to hold onto a chair and lift your left leg off the ground. Use your right hand to reach out to each key “position” on the clock, 12, 6, 3 and 9. Keep focused straight ahead, and repeat each arm/leg combo twice.
- Side and Back Leg Raises: For side leg raises, stand behind a chair, feet slightly apart. Holding on to the chair, slowly lift your right leg to the side. Your back should stay straight, eyes and toes forward. Repeat 10-15 times per leg. For back leg raises, same position, but lift one leg straight back with toe pointed and without bending your knee. Pause, then slowly lower. Repeat 10-15 times per leg.
Live Your Best Independent Life in Our Community
As a resident of The Atrium at Navesink Harbor, you’ll be living in a senior community focused on creating ways to live your best life. Ensuring you maintain your well-being and independence is one of our highest priorities, which is why we offer our award-winning LivWell senior wellness program with a full slate of balance and strength fitness classes, as well as our superb senior rehabilitation services should you need professional therapy for any condition or injury.
If you’d like to learn more about living in our beautiful waterfront senior community and all the excellent services we offer,, reach out via our contact form. We look forward to meeting you!