Falling actually kills more women every year than breast cancer. As we get older, falling becomes a more serious problem. Balance falls into the same “use it or lose it” category that you associate with movement. There are many things you can do to maintain your muscle strength and flexibility as you age.
An enhanced sense of stability or balance doesn’t just protect you from future falls. There are other immediate health benefits from maintaining your stability – better mobility, fewer injuries, and a greater ability to push yourself further during exercise which in turn increases your overall fitness level. Balance is like strength and flexibility – you can improve it if you challenge it.
Here are 3 strategies to help strengthen the core and lower body muscles that help keep you steady on your feet:
1. Stand on one leg – try doing this while you are washing the dishes or watching TV. When you can hold the pose for 30 seconds on each side, try standing on a less stable surface, such as a couch cushion. To increase the challenge even more, try it with your eyes closed.
2. Balance on a wobble board or Bosu board - these are a few gym pieces designed to challenge your stability. Stand on the board, feet shoulder-width apart, abs tight, and rock forward and back and side to side for a minute at a time – hold a chair for support if needed. Work up to 2 minutes at a time without holding on or letting the edges of the device touch the floor.
3. Take a Tai Chi class or yoga class - these are good exercise forms that are great to increase your balance and stability.
4. Walk Heel to Toe – The same “sobriety test” used by law enforcement also improves balance. Take 20 steps forward heel to toe, then walk backward heel to toe in a straight line.
5. Do squats - Sturdy legs can help prevent a stumble from turning into a fall? Aim for 3 sets of 10 with a 1 minute break after each set.
6. Practice the force – The force is the effort used to push yourself out of a chair and the response of your feet to that force. Practice using greater force to push yourself out if a chair – that action builds power. Side-to-side and back-to-front movements have that same effect – like when you play tennis – helps build the “force” or power in your legs.
7. Get a good night’s rest. Sleep more than 7 hours a night. Sleep deprivation slows reaction time which can be directly related to falls. Research shows that people who tend to sleep between 5 and 7 hours each night are 40% more likely to fall than those who slept longer.
Test Your Balance - Try these moves to see how well you can balance:
1. On both feet: Stand with feet together, ankle bones touching and arms folded across chest; then close your eyes. Have someone time you – though it’s normal to sway a little, you should be able to stand for 60 seconds without moving your feet. Next, place one foot directly in front of the other and close your eyes. You should be able to stand for at least 38 seconds on both sides.
2. On one foot: Stand on one foot and bend other knee, lifting nonsupporting foot off floor without letting it touch the standing leg. (Do this in a doorway so you can grab the sides if you start to fall.) Repeat with eyes closed. People age 60 and younger can typically hold the pose for 29 seconds with their eyes open, 21 seconds with their eyes closed. People age 61 and older: 22 seconds with eyes open, and 10 seconds with eyes closed.
3. On ball of foot: Stand on one foot with hands on hips and place nonsupporting foot against the inside of knee of standing leg. Raise heel off floor and hold the pose – you should be able to do so for 25 seconds.