Monday, August 30, 2010

What happens to balance as we age?

Balance decreases as we age, and importantly, falling is a major problem as a result. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of every three Americans over the age of 65 falls each year, and among individuals 65-84, falls account for 87% of all fractures and are the second leading cause of spinal cord and brain injury. The good news is that physical activity can improve balance and reduce the risk of falling. In one study of 256 older adults (70 to 92 years of age, average age 77) who did tai chi for six months, there were 52% fewer falls in the individuals who did tai chi compared to those who didn't, and there were fewer falls overall among the individuals who did tai chi compared to those who didn't (28% versus 46%).

In an even more convincing study called a meta-analysis, where researchers combine the results of many studies on the same subject, it was reported that muscle strengthening and balance retraining exercises in 1,016 older men and women (ages 65 to 97) reduced the risk of falls and fall injuries by as much as 35%-45%.

One of the important conclusions of the research is that it's important to select balance-training exercises that are specific to activities that you do during the day. For instance, you might want to do balance exercises on one leg that mimic the act of walking if you are unsteady while you walk (when you walk, one leg is in the air). Tai chi is excellent for this because it involves slow, coordinated movements, and particularly so since you lift one leg frequently while doing it.

Balance Exercises for Seniors

Balance exercises help build strength in your leg muscles in order to maintain balance and prevent falls. These particular types of exercises help seniors improve balance and stability. Before you begin these balancing exercises make sure you have a table or chair that you can hold on to. Start out by holding onto the table or chair with one hand. As you proceed through the exercises try using just your finger tips to improve balance and stability. As you get comfortable with using just your finger tips, try a few of these exercises for balance without holding on to anything. Make sure that the chair or table is still next to you if you need it for balance.

Take a look on four simple exercises for balance improvement you can start from.  

Knee Raise

This one helps build strength in your thighs and hip flexors. Get your chair or table set up where you will be exercising. Follow the steps below to begin improving your balance and stability.
  1. Stand next to the chair with the back of the chair next to your left side.
  2. Place your left hand on the back of the chair. Put your weight on your inside (left) leg keeping your knee soft and slightly bent.
  3. Focus your eyes on something in front of you. Take a deep breath.
  4. Now as you exhale, bend your right knee and bring it towards your chest. Don't bend your waist or hips as you do this balancing move.
  5. Inhale and hold this knee up for a count of 1 to 3 while holding onto the chair. 
  6. While exhaling, return your leg back to the floor.
  7. Repeat this several times and then switch legs.
With a slight variation to this balance exercise you can add some challenge for building strength and improving stability. While your knee is still bent and in the air, move your leg to the side pointing your knee to the side. Return your leg to the front before placing it back on the ground.

Watch the video below to see how to do this exercise for balance with the variation described above. Just click on the play button.

Sit to Stand Exercise

If you have been using a table to hold onto you will need to get a chair for this move. Although sitting and standing doesn't seem to sound like an exercise, this move helps build your leg muscles and improve balance. If your chair has arms you can use these to help with balance but remember to use your leg muscles and not your arms to lift your body.
  1. Start by sitting in the chair. Make sure your buttocks are scooched forward and not all the way to the back of the chair.
  2. Take a deep breath and as you exhale, slowly lift up off the chair using your leg muscles. As you do this, lean your chest forward a bit and hold onto the chair for support.
  3. Stand up straight and take another deep breath.
  4. Making sure the backs of your legs are touching the chair legs, lean over slightly and return to a sitting position as you exhale.
  5. Repeat this several times.
Click on the exercise video below to see this senior balancing exercise demonstrated.

Side Leg Raises

This one helps with the hip flexors and leg strength.
  1. Stand directly behind the chair with your back straight.
  2. Place your feet flat to the floor with feet slightly apart. Hold onto the back of the chair or the table.
  3. Take a deep breath and as you exhale slowly lift your right leg about 6 to 12 inches off the floor to the side. Keep both legs straight and your toes pointed forward.
  4. Inhale and hold this pose for a few seconds. As you exhale return to starting position.
  5. Repeat this several times alternating legs.
Try to challenge yourself by using just your finger tips or letting go of the table or chair. Click on the video below to see this exercise for balance demonstrated.

Hip Extension

This move helps build strength in your lower back, hips and buttocks. You want to make sure your chair or table is no lower than your hips in order to prevent stress on your back.
  1. Stand behind your chair or table with feet flat to the floor and slightly apart. Your feet should be slightly less than shoulder width apart.
  2. Take several steps back away from the chair with your back straight.
  3. Slowly lift one leg straight back keeping the leg and knee straight. Remeber to keep your back straight as you do this move.
  4. Hold the pose for a second and then slowly return your leg to starting position.
  5. Repeat this several times and then switch legs.
Click on the play button below to see this particular balance exercise demonstrated.

Sources and Additional Information:


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