Balance is important in all aspects of our lives, including the literal aspect of maintaining ourselves upright!
Falling is a serious concern for many aging adults. Every year, one out of every four Americans aged 65 and older fall. When we fall, the risk of injury isn’t the only concern: It can take months to recover from injuries sustained in a fall, and such lengthy convalescence can lead to more physical problems.
While balance issues are commonly associated with the aging process, we shouldn’t just throw in the towel and shrug them off as inevitable. Studies have found that exercise helps reduce the risk of falls, and can also help minimize injuries sustained in a fall.
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Why Balance Worsens With Age
Balance requires the interaction between your vision (to note motion and direction), inner ear (to orientate yourself), proprioceptors (to perceive where your body is located in space), and the muscles and joints from your feet up through your spine.
The brain processes the information transmitted from each of these areas and gives your body the information needed to manage balance. When all four are working well, you have a good sense of your spatial positioning.
The aging process causes loss of muscle mass and overall strength, fading eyesight, and the decline of inner ear functioning. The degeneration of just one or all these aspects can throw off your brain signals and adversely affect your balance.
[Related: How Muscles Change With Aging]
Best Exercises to Improve Balance and Prevent Falls
Improving muscle mass and practicing balance exercises can help you not only arrest further balance loss, but even regain levels of balance already sacrificed.
General strength training helps to maintain type II muscle fibers, the muscles that are needed to help us shift our weight to prevent falls. The best predictor of frailty later in life is having weak quadriceps or thigh muscles. Daily squats and other balance exercises can make a significant difference to your balance.
[Related: Weight Training Tips After Age 50]
Lateral Weight Shifting
Standing with your feet about as wide apart as your hips, shift your weight to one side and then the other, lifting your opposite foot off of the floor. Hold the position for as long as you can (about 30 seconds). Alternate to the other side, and repeat.
Forward/Backward Weight Shifting
Step forward and shift your weight onto your front leg, lifting your back leg off of the floor. Hold the position for as long as you can (about 30 seconds). Alternate to the back leg, and repeat.
Take weight shifting a step further by balancing on one leg. Start with your feet placed hip width apart on the floor and your hands on your hips. Lift one leg, bending at the knee, and hold this position for up to 30 seconds. Alternate with the other leg, and repeat.
Stand with your arms straight out and feet side by side. Take a step, positioning your lead foot directly in front of the back foot, so that your lead foot’s heel is touching the toe of your back foot. Pick a spot straight ahead to keep yourself steady, walking heel-to-toe.
Start on the floor as if you were going to do a pushup. Bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms. Keep your elbows directly below your shoulders so that they make 90-degree angles with your forearms. Keep your legs straight and your stomach lifted. Your body should form a straight line from your heels to the top of your head. Tighten your abs and hold the position for as long as you can.
Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent, your feet shoulder width apart, and your hands by your side. Push with your heels to raise your hips off the floor as high as you can, keeping your back straight. Hold the position for one to five seconds, and then slowly return to your starting position. Repeat.
Single-Legged Squat and Reach
Stand on one leg, with the opposite foot lifted a couple of inches off of the ground. Bend the standing leg 90 degrees to reach the opposite arm toward the outside of the standing leg. Keep your back straight the whole time. Return to the starting position, alternate legs, and repeat.
BONUS: BOSUⓇ Balance Exercises
We’re oftentimes challenged with balancing while moving or switching positions, when gravity and momentum are pulling us in different directions. This is called dynamic balance.
BOSUⓇ Balance Trainers provide the changing base of support necessary to help you improve your dynamic balance. If you get to a point where the previous balance exercises aren’t challenging enough, try out a BOSUⓇ Balance Trainer with some of the exercises shown in the video above!
New Adventures Require Good Balance
Remember that a vital, healthy life includes confidence and strength for fun, new adventures ahead. Maintaining and building good balance is the place to start!
How do you stay adventure-ready after 50? Share your story with us!
Featured image via TONL