In my last post, The Loss of Balance Fear Spiral, I mentioned that it is common to have more difficulty balancing as we get older. I also discussed how I believe that this is due to being less physically active, challenging our balance less, and the accompanying fear of falling that occurs. As promised, in this post I want to offer ways to safely improve your balance and lose the fear in trying more challenging activities.
First, let’s talk about safety. If you do not feel absolutely safe from falling, you will never really allow yourself to challenge your balance. The corner of a room can be your best friend when training balance. Corners, walls, railings, anything solid that you can lean against or grab will give you the confidence to try balancing and know that you can save yourself if you start to fall. You also need to choose a level that is only slightly more advanced than your current level. While there are all kinds of balance devices available, that doesn’t mean that you need to, or even should be using them.
Balance training exercise selection, like any other exercise selection, should be specific to your individual needs. For most of us, those needs are about standing tall, walking, climbing, and possibly a little jumping. So, let’s look at some exercises for those activities.
Single Leg Balance – Standing on your leg closest to the wall, with your back close to the wall, stand as tall as you can and work to maintain balance. Only touch the wall if you need to.
Single Leg Balance with Reach – If the single leg balance is not challenging, maintain that position and move the non-weight bearing leg forward, then to the side, and back again. Moving that leg will force you to readjust your center of gravity over your standing leg.
Reaching Tall – For those of you whose posture is leaning forward, particularly if you fear falling backward, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and with their back about 6″ away from the wall, reach both arms as high as possible. Lower your arms as you start to feel yourself falling back (don’t worry, the wall is there to catch you if you do fall back). Repeat.
Tandem walk – Standing with the wall close to your side, walk forward heel to toe in a single straight line. You can try going backward, once you feel like you have mastered going forward.
Calf Raise Balance – With your feet shoulder width apart and hands hovering in front of the wall, press down with your toes and lift your heels as high as you can. Hold the top position for a couple of seconds, lower your heels and repeat.
Heel Walk Side Stepping – Standing with your back about 6″ away from the wall, lift your toes and balance on your heels. Now side step parallel to the wall until you reach the end of the wall. Reverse the direction and side step back.
Step Up and Balance With a Pause – Turn every time you take the stairs into a balance exercise. With your hand hovering above the railing, step up and balance on the lead leg for a couple of seconds before you take the next step and balance on the other leg. Step and balance the whole stair case.
These may not seem very challenging to look at, but give them a try and see how you do. Fit these exercises in wherever and whenever you can. The more often you work on your balance the sooner it will get better.
Note: The goal of these balancing exercises is to be close, be safe, but, only touch the wall or grab the railing if you need. You have to struggle a little to force your body to adapt and become better at balance.