Should we worry about our balance as we age?

Natasha Ingram—Movement Matters
Should we worry about our balance as we age?

Balance is our ability to remain upright with an even weight distribution. As we age, our balance declines and leads to falls and injuries. It seems silly, doesn't it? To worry about something that will decline naturally. The only way to counteract this decline is by safely challenging our

balance everyday. Practicing your balance in a group, or safely at home, is beneficial in reducing your risk of injuries and fear of falling, and improving your physical function. The biggest risk factor for falling is the fear of falling. This fear results in inactivity, further physical decline, impaired balance, and worsening lifestyle-related diseases. Worrying seems silly because balance is something that we are able to work on and improve long-term with no equipment necessary - all it takes is you.

Balance exercises can be practiced in sitting, standing or walking. Randomized controlled studies have proven that practicing your balance when your attention is divided (with a dual-task or multi-task performance) translates better into real life than simply working on your balance in isolation. With dual-task performance, it is divided between a motor and a cognitive task. With multi-task performance, you are switching between two cognitive tasks simultaneously. A motor task would be moving your arm or leg; buttoning/unbuttoning clothes; kicking or throwing a ball; closing your eyes. A cognitive task would be counting (add or subtract 7 from a given number); reading newspapers; reciting categories of animals, countries, etc.

Balance exercises include:

- Sitting on a chair: Don't touch the back or armrests. Gently throw and catch a ball against the wall. Add counting back from 100 or 95 in intervals of 7.

- Standing: Stand with both feet on the floor with easy access to a table, chair or wall. Try placing one foot in front of the other (without holding on). Try doing it with a different surface (carpet, pillow). Try single leg. Add eyes closed or reciting animal categories.

- Walking: zig-zag walking around obstacles in a line, stepping on top of different surfaces. Try a “messy” environment with objects on the floor/in the way. Try walking tandem (one foot in front of the other). Change up the walking speed. Add another task - buttoning

your shirt while walking, or counting.

The best thing about your balance is that you can practice it anywhere and anytime. Please be safe with these exercises and consult with your family physician or local physiotherapist if you are concerned about your balance. Indirect ways to improve your balance are biking, climbing stairs, stretching and yoga. Yoga has proven to strengthen and stretch tight muscles while challenging your balance skills. A program available in the community is “Balance for Life” @Seaway Valley Community Health Centre. Beginner yoga programs are also available at Move Therapeutics, email for details.

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