Bone Health Part 5: Balance Exercises

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Improve your stability with balance exercises

Specific balance exercises for seniors can help combat the natural decline in balance that we experience with age. Balance improves with training, both with strength training and with specific balance training exercises.

How does strength training help?

The first gains in a strength training program are neuromuscular, creating new integration between the brain and the body.  The neuromuscular stimulus results in quicker reaction time, the ability to recover from a stumble or to change direction.

As the muscles get stronger, especially in the lower body, we become more stable and are more able to prevent a fall or an injury.

What are good balance exercises?

In balance training, our balance centers – eyes, ears, and feet – work together to sense imbalance and correct the course.  When you are practicing balance exercises, stand tall with your spine aligned and engage your core. Fix your eyes on a steady point in front of you. When you are ready to increase the level of difficulty, close one eye. To advance, close both eyes!

  1. Stork stance for static balance
  2. Tandem gait for dynamic balance
  3. Balance walk for static and dynamic balance

1.  Stork stance

Begin with static balance, the ability to maintain an upright posture with your center of gravity over the base of support, as when standing on one leg in the Stork stance.  The Stork stance is a good exercise to determine which leg is more stable.

  • If you are just starting to work on balance, stand near something for support with your feet shoulder width apart.

  • Engage your core muscles by drawing your naval in toward your spine.

  • Stand tall with your ribs lifted, head over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over ankles.

  • Raise one foot about 6 inches off the floor, bending the leg to 45 degrees, fixing your eyes on a point in front of you.

  • Hold the position for up to 30 seconds, then switch legs. Repeat 3-5 times on each leg.

  • When you switch legs, note which side is stronger and more stable, which can be quite dramatic.

  • When you can hold the potion for 30 seconds, try closing your eyes (or one eye) to increase the level of difficulty.

2.  Tandem gait (Tightrope walk)

Progress to dynamic balance which is the ability to maintain stability during weight shifting, as in the Tandem gait or Tightrope walk.

  • Begin with the heel of your right foot directly in front on your left toes so that your heel and toes are touching. You may feel more secure if you begin by touching a wall.

  • Walk forward and bring your left foot directly in front of your right, walking heel-to-toe in a straight line, where the toes of the first foot touch the heel of the next one at each step.

  • Continue this pattern for up to 20 feet and repeat the walk 3-5 times, maintaining proper posture alignment, holding your torso upright, chest lifted, eyes straight ahead.

3.  Balance walk

 Finally, combine dynamic balance (walking) with static balance in the Balance walk, as you pause in between steps and raise one knee.

  •       Raise arms to sides at shoulder height.

  •       Choose a stationary visual target ahead of you and focus on it with a steady gaze.

  •       Walk in a straight line with one foot in front of the other.

  •       As you walk, lift your back leg and bring the knee up to the front. Pause for one second before stepping forward.

  •       Repeat for 20 steps, alternating legs.

For all exercises, practice safety first. As you improve, use less support, following this progression:

  • At first, hold onto a chair or wall for support.

  • As you become more stable, lighten your hand on the support.

  • Then touch the support with one finger only.

  • Finally, hold your hand two inches above the support.

Related: Exercise for Fall Prevention

Disclaimer: The information presented in this article should not be construed as medical advice. It is not intended to replace consultation with your physician or healthcare provider.

Author

  • Joan Pagano has specialized in strength training for women since 1988 – training, teaching, and writing books on the subject, including Strength Training Exercises for Women (DK, 2014). When the health benefits of strength training started making headlines in the 1990s, and in particular how weight training could protect the bones and prevent osteoporosis, it was a natural segue for her. At that time, Joan was developing and delivering fitness training guidelines for osteoporosis to national audiences of exercise professionals. Currently Joan is recognized by the industry as a leading authority on exercise program design for osteoporosis. She is certified as an Exercise Physiologist by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and is on the Ambassadors Leadership Council for the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Visit Joan at: www.joanpaganofitness.com/

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