When we think of exercise programs and movements, endurance (cardio), strength and flexibility are the three that come to mind, rarely do we think of balance training as a component of fitness for the average person, but balance is definitely a skill that people of all ages should incorporate into their workout routine. Balance can be practiced daily. It can be done anywhere and at anytime (standing in line at the grocery store, while talking on the phone or preparing dinner). It is recommended that people 65 years and older include balance training three times per week, as well as strength training two times per week.
About 65% of seniors in Canada will fall which can lead to hip fractures or other potentially life-threatening chronic diseases. Many people who fall will have a fear of falling again, this fear can lead to a decrease in physical activity, which can lead to chronic diseases. Once a person stops participating in physical activity, they lose muscle strength and balance decreases which can lead to a vicious cycle of falls. A decline in physical activity can also lead to social isolation which in turn can be a cause of depression. This is why falls prevention is very important for seniors.
Falls are more likely to happen in older adults because all systems that help keep us balanced (the brain, central nervous system, vision and muscles) lose small amounts of function as we age. Seniors may also have more ailments and be taking more medications which can cause dizziness, confusion, blurred vision and slower reaction times.
Balance is very important for activities of daily living such as walking and going up stairs, which are both important for remaining independent. Balance exercises along with strengthening the legs, glutes and core will help with fall prevention. Good balance starts with good posture. Good posture will center body weight over feet, keeping you balanced. Stand with shoulders back, spine neutral and abdominals pulled in. The following are some balance exercises that can be performed a minimum of three times a week.
- Stand on one foot for 10 seconds (alternating legs) – start with holding onto the back of chair if you are not confident with your balance. Once you feel comfortable with this exercise you can remove the chair and stand for longer periods of time
- Heel toe walking – pretend you are walking on a tight rope, walk with heel touching toe for 20 steps. Hold onto the wall for support if needed.
- Heel raises – this exercise is used to strengthen calf and ankle muscles. Standing behind a chair with feet together stand on tip toes, hold for 3-5 seconds, lower heels to starting position. Repeat 10 – 15 times.
- Standing side leg lift – this exercise is to strengthen hips, thighs and buttocks. Stand behind a chair, raise one leg out to the side as high as range of motion allows without feeling discomfort, hold for one second, lower leg to starting position. Repeat 10 -15 times on one leg, switch and repeat on the other leg.
- Standing hamstring curls – this exercise will strengthen hamstrings, buttocks and calves. Stand behind a chair, stand with hip width apart, keep upper leg in one spot and don’t move your hip. Bend at your knee and bring your foot towards your buttocks. Slowly lower leg to starting position. Repeat 10 – 15 times on each leg.
- Sitting down and standing up from a chair without using hands – this exercise will improve balance and strengthen thighs, glutes, core and hamstrings. Start seated in a chair, feet planted on the floor hip width apart. Engage your core, tip forward from hips and try to use your hands as little as possible, press your weight through your feet and push yourself to stand, extending knees and hips fully. Reverse the movement, press hips back and bend knees to lower yourself to seated position. Repeat 10 – 15 times.
Once these movements are performed proficiently progressions can be made by closing eyes, holding the positions for longer periods of times and letting go of chair.
Balance is a very important component of physical fitness and necessary for people of all ages to practice, especially seniors. Balance exercises can be performed anytime and anywhere. Your future self will thank you.
By Jessica Diaz. Jessica is a Certified Personal Trainer at Body Design. Body Design offers Personal Training, Athletic Therapy & Yoga to assist individuals achieve their fitness and weight loss goals. Visit www.bodydesign.ca