Just as a reduction in resistance training can make us weaker and fewer miles on the treadmill can reduce our cardiovascular fitness levels, maintaining good balance as you age requires a continued effort, says Bruk Ballenger of Prevail Physical Therapy in Shoreline.
“Generally speaking, a person’s risk of falling increases when they get older, but there are ways to vastly reduce this risk,” Ballenger said. “A reduction in balance is often a symptom of something else – an issue like muscle weakness, joint stiffness, or perhaps even a medical condition that can and should be addressed.”
As you age, however, good balance becomes critical in the prevention of falls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of U.S. adults 65 years and older fall each year, with up to 30 percent suffering moderate to severe injuries.
Such statistics, Ballenger points out, reinforce the need for regular exercise and balance assessments as you age.
“A comprehensive exam by a physical therapist, one that includes a balance assessment, can effectively pinpoint what may be contributing to your lack of balance which, if left unaddressed, can directly contribute to your risk of falling and even a lack of mobility,” Ballenger said. “We can use these results to establish an individualized muscle strengthening and balance training program to reduce your risk of falls.”
Without such a specific program, a person can still make strides toward maintaining good balance, Ballenger says. Exercise as simple as walking, she said, can offer great benefits, but specific balance-enhancing exercises exist that are slightly more challenging, depending on your level of strength and balance. Such “try at home” exercises include:
Weight Shifts: While in a standing position with your legs should-width apart, simply shift your weight to one leg, lifting the opposite foot from the floor, and hold for 30 seconds. Then, shift your weight to the other side and lift the other leg for 30 seconds. Repeat as your balance improves.
Single-Leg Balance: Still in your standing position, legs shoulder-width apart and hands on your hips, lift one leg from the floor and bend back at the knee, holding your toe about a foot off the ground. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat with the other leg.
Heel to Toe Walk: Put the heel of one foot in front of the toes of the other so they’re touching. With your eyes focused on a spot ahead, take a step, putting the heel of the stepping foot in front of the toes of the other. Repeat for 20 steps.
According to Ballenger, these exercises (and others like them) should be performed near a wall or something sturdy in case you become unsteady. And of course, before beginning any at-home exercises, consult movement experts like those on the Prevail Physical Therapy team to schedule a balance assessment, ensuring these types of exercises are right for you and your specific condition.