I’m just clumsy. I have two left feet. Have you noticed a change in your balance as you get older? Falls must be taken seriously at any age, but the stakes are higher as we age. They’re a leading cause of death over the age of 75. Even as young as 65, falls are the number one cause of accidental death. Check out the statistics:
“Falls are the leading cause of injury-related visits to emergency departments in the United States and the primary etiology of accidental deaths in persons over the age of 65 years. The mortality rate for falls increases dramatically with age in both sexes and in all racial and ethnic groups, with falls accounting for 70 percent of accidental deaths in persons 75 years of age and older.” GEORGE F. FULLER, COL, MC, USA, White House Medical Clinic, Washington, D.C. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Apr 1;61(7):2159-2168.
There are four simple balance building exercises and one balance building tool that you can use to protect your sense of balance or even rebuild balance if you’ve lost it over the years. If you’re a patient at HealthWorks: A Family Wellness Center then you’ll recognize some of these exercises!
1. Balance Disc Exercises
The balance disc exercises are very straight forward. Regardless of what level of exercise being performed, the entire routine should not take more than 3-5 minutes. Please follow only the difficulty level you feel comfortable performing. You don’t want to risk a fall while working to improve your balance! Start with the easiest exercises and, when ready, challenge yourself with more advanced versions.
To perform this exercise you’ll need a balance disc or balance board. If you choose a disc, make sure that it’s only inflated half way. This is important and won’t work as well if it’s under or over inflated. Your objective is to keep either foot from touching the ground through the balance ball. For more challenge, perform each exercise with one eye closed, and then the other eye.
- Stand on two feet
- Stand on toes of both feet
- Jump on two feet
- Squat down on two feet
- Stand on one foot
- Stand on the toes of one foot
- Jump on one foot
- Squat down on one foot
Why: Balance is associated with increased cognitive skills and injury prevention. These exercises train your brain to know where your body is without looking. (This helps prevent falls!)
2. Cross Over March
Start with feet shoulder width apart and hands above the head. Bring arm and opposite leg together in front of your body at about mid abdominal level. Alternate sides as if marching on the spot in a rhythmic manner. Repeat 10 times. OPTION: perform this exercise while laying on your back if standing is too difficult.
Why: When we cross-crawl, we use both the right and left side of the brain to enhance neurological coordination. Studies show children who were categorized as early walkers, or those who have crawled for a comparatively short time demonstrated lower performance scores on preschool assessment tests.
In adulthood, this exercise can reinforce pathways that may be weak, bringing better brain-body communication and coordination.
3. Full Squat
Place your feet hip-width apart and point your toes out slightly. Keeping your upper body back, drop your hips as far down as you can. Return to standing by pushing through your hips and keeping your upper body back (don’t lean forward & keep your heels on the ground).
Depending on your current fitness level this one may be tough. If this seems tough for you then I suggest performing this while holding on to both sides of a door handle while the door is open for support. Place a cushion under you in case of a fall. Enlist a partner if necessary. You may start with only dropping your hips a little at a time. Remember to not over extend yourself- you’re working to prevent falls, not cause them! Start where you’re at and work yourself deeper into the squat while maintaining good alignment over time. Repeat fifteen times.
Why: Sitting in a chair for long periods of time will weaken your pelvic muscles. Squatting strengthens pelvic muscles and helps to mitigate the damage of prolonged sitting. Ladies, squats are FAR superior to Kegels for pelvic health, and can even help prevent a prolapsed uterus or pesky leaks.
4. Heel-to-Toe Walking
Heel to toe walking gets your mind and body working together to keep you safe and upright. To do this exercise, first, make sure that your path is clear of any tripping hazards. You’ll want to be able to pace between 8-12 steps in one direction for a total of about 50 paces. I suggest starting along a wall or counter top for something to hang onto. You can even place a strip of painter’s tape in a line on the floor to challenge yourself to stay straight.
First, start with your head up and your feet planted on the ground. Then, without looking down, place your right foot in front of your left foot, heel touching the toes of the left foot. Continue on, with heel and toes touching at each step.
Later, once you’ve mastered this, you can challenge yourself by performing the same exercise backward, with your eyes closed, or even backward with your eyes closed!
Why: Heel toe walking trains a special sense in your body called “proprioception”. Proprioception is a very detailed and amazing sense, it tells your brain exactly what all of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments are doing at any given point, measuring stretch and tension in the tissues. This sense allows you to walk without staring at the ground and reach up to touch your nose without looking in a mirror.
To see demonstrations of the exercises click here.