Balance is the even distribution of your body weight, enabling you to remain upright and steady. Often, we don’t appreciate our balance until it deteriorates. Maintaining good balance helps you to move more easily and is important for many common activities such as walking and moving up and downstairs. Good balance helps prevent falls and injury, which is a common problem in older adults.
Balance is also integral to proprioception – the body’s ability to subconsciously sense movement and its location in space. This broad concept involves both balance and postural control and is our sense of joint and limb positioning. It’s important to keep your proprioception and balance in check particularly after about the age of 40, and particularly if you injure a weightbearing joint such as a knee or ankle.
Other factors that can affect your balance and proprioception include muscle strength, previous injuries, your inner ear, and eyesight, all of which can deteriorate as you age. Aging also adversely impacts balance and proprioception because the weight-bearing joints become less sensitive to positional changes, as nerves, joints and muscles undergo age-related changes. Hence, movement requires greater conscious effort. For example, older people are more prone to looking at their feet when they walk. They use visual feedback to detect where they are placing their feet rather than subconscious proprioceptive feedback due to this impairment. As we age, reflexes also become slower, so reactions and corrections when we become unbalanced are slower, increasing the likelihood of falling.
The good news is you can improve and rehabilitate your balance and proprioception. Balance training is one of four types of exercise training along with strength, endurance and flexibility recommended in a healthy workout routine for adults by the World Health Organization.
Balance can be improved by developing solid strength of the core muscles as well as the back, hips legs and abdominal muscles.
Here are a few tips that may help improve balance:
- Strengthen your back, buttocks, abdomen and leg muscles with daily strengthening exercises targeting those areas specifically.
- Challenge your balance with daily exercises.
Examples of balance exercises are:
- Feet together balance: Stand upright with your feet very close together. Hold this position for 10 seconds and try not to hold on. Now try closing your eyes.
- Single leg balance: Try to balance on one leg for up to 30 seconds. Then try the other leg
- Uneven ground walk: Walk on surfaces that are irregular with supportive shoes.
- Single leg balance and kick: Stand on one leg and kick the other leg forward, sideways, and backwards 3 times. Repeat with the other leg. Try not to hold on although ensure you are near to a sturdy chair or bench in case you need support.
Maintaining balance with (1) strengthening exercises of the core muscles and (2) regular balance exercises is an important strategy to sustaining your independence as you age.