Balance and Aging
By Nicole Maurer, MPH
Statistics show that roughly 9 percent of adults who are 65 and older report having problems with balance. This along with a decline in lower body strength and stability leads to an alarming 300,000 admissions to the hospital for fall-related injuries in older adults (NIH, 2007).
Balance is key to activities of daily living (like walking, standing and reaching), fall prevention and independence. Balance can be affected by muscular strength and endurance, as well as inner ear function and eye sight.
No matter where your balance problems originate, it can be maintained and even improved as we age through practicing balance specific training exercises. Research has also shown that this type of training helps to reduce back, knee and ankle injuries.
Balance can be improved at any age!
Some simple suggestions before starting balance training:
- If you expect your feet to provide a good source of balance you should not be ignoring or living with painful feet. Poorly fitting shoes cause painful feet. Pain will result in poor balance and ultimately you will be a fall waiting to happen.
- Do some light stretching and aerobic exercise (walking is a great choice). This pushes the metabolism up and pushes more blood and more oxygen, through the body. This contributes to muscle strength.
- As with starting any new training program, it is important to use a gradual progression. Start off with low intensity/difficulty exercises and progress to more challenging exercises. When performing balance exercises it is helpful to establish a stable (non-moving) focal point. This will keep your attention and allow you to focus your eyesight for better stability.
Beginning Balance Training
- Stand in your kitchen, hand on the counter top. Raise one leg and hold it in the air for up to one minute. Use your hand to keep your balance. Eventually you will need less help from your hand. Alternate legs and practice every day.
- Seated to standing. Practice going from seated to standing in a kitchen chair or chair of normal height. This strengthens the legs and ankles for more difficult balance training.
- Tandem stance. Stand with one foot directly in front of the other and practice stationary balance. When this becomes easy, practice moving your head (and focal point) from side to side.
- Walking heel to toe. Practice walking in a straight line with one foot directly in front of another.