When age or medical issues interfere with your mobility, it’s easy for a cycle to fall into place: you’re less active, which lessens your sense of balance, which leads to a fear of falling and even less activity, which further lessens your sense of balance. This is understandable. Falling is scary, especially if you’re older or have medical conditions.
You can reduce your risk of falling by taking care of yourself and making a few changes at home, but another great way to reduce your fall risk is to simply work on improving your balance.
Fortunately, there are several easy things you can do to improve your balance. Here are our top ten ways to improve your balance.
1. Wear good shoes
A good pair of shoes can really help you maintain your balance. Try to find a good, locally-owned shoe store that specializes in high-quality shoes. Salespeople at these types of stores often know their stock very well, so they’ll be able to suggest shoes that are just right for you. Always try shoes on and walk around a little before leaving, and bring along the socks you intend to wear with your new shoes. The American Podiatric Medical Association suggests testing your shoes before purchasing, explaining:
“Put shoes to the 1-2-3 test.
Step 1: Press on both sides of the heel area to ensure the heel is stiff and won’t collapse.
Step 2: Bend the shoe to check for toe flexibility. The shoe shouldn’t bend too much in the toe box area, but it shouldn’t be too stiff and inflexible either.
Step 3: Try twisting the shoe; it shouldn’t twist in the middle.”
You can also talk to your physician, a therapist, or a podiatrist about orthotic inserts. Someday you might even be able to buy electronic, vibrating inserts to improve your balance.
2. Walk heel to toe
You can do this around the house whenever you want, as long as there’s something nearby to hold on to for balance. Lift one foot and set it directly in front of the other, so the heel of one foot touches the toe of the other – just like pretending to walk on a tightrope. You can also do this backwards, if you want more of a challenge. Just be sure you’ve got someone or something to hold on to for stability.
3. Stand on one leg
Do this while holding on to a wall, counter, or sturdy chair. Stand on one foot for about 20-30 seconds, and then switch feet. You can do this as many times as you want throughout the day. If you want to challenge yourself, you can try extending one leg behind your body with your toes extended, without bending your torso or knee; hold this position for about one second and repeat the motion 10-15 times on each side. You can also try extending your leg out to the side, toes pointing forward and back straight; hold the position for about one second and repeat the motion 10-15 times on each side.
4. Warm up your muscles
Keeping your balance is more difficult if your muscles are stiff. Before leaving the house or doing exercise, do some shoulder rolls, lift your arms up and down a few times, and walk up and down the hallway a few times. A warm-up routine doesn’t have to be anything fancy, as long as it’s comfortable and gets your muscles loosened up.
5. Try a wobble board
A wobble board is a circular disc with a half-sphere on the bottom, rather like an oversized spinning top. Lots of gyms and physical therapy locations have these, and you can also find wobble boards easily online. A study found that using wobble boards over several weeks can help elderly people improve their balance significantly, but do be careful. Check with your physician before you try a wobble board, and make sure you’ve got something sturdy to hold on to.
6. Do balance-promoting exercises at home
The heel-to-toe walk in #2 and the one-leg activities in #3 can both act as exercises, but there are other activities you can do, too. For instance, try to go from sitting to standing without using your arms (or using your arms as little as possible) to strengthen your core. You can also shift your weight back and forth from foot to foot, lifting the foot your weight isn’t on a few inches off the floor. Hip circles can help strengthen your core muscles, too. Hold on to something sturdy, and rotate your hips in a wide circle. Do five circles in one direction, and then do five circles in the other direction.
7. Join an exercise class
Tai chi and yoga can both help you strengthen your core and leg muscles and improve your balance. Check with local community centers, do an online search for local classes, or ask a medical professional for a recommendation. As an added bonus, activities like tai chi and yoga are great for overall health and pain control, and you might make some new friends, too.
8. Close your eyes
Only do this when you’re at home and have something to hold on to. Close your eyes while standing with your feet together, and see how long you can go before you need to move your feet. As you get better at this, you can try standing on one leg and doing heel to toe walking with your eyes closed.
9. Get enough sleep
Sleep affects your entire body, so this is good for your overall health, but it’s also vital to keeping your balance. Prevention.com states:
“Sleep deprivation slows reaction time, and a study at California Pacific Medical Center shows that it’s also directly related to falls: Researchers tracked nearly 3,000 older women and found that those who typically slept between 5 and 7 hours each night were 40% more likely to fall than those who slept longer.”
10. Make it a habit
None of these tips will help you much if you don’t make them a regular part of your routine. It might take a while for you to notice an improvement, but keep at it. Better balance might just help you improve your life in ways you never expected.
What are you going to do to improve your balance?
Image by Dustin Cytacki via Flickr