6 Tips to Improve Balance
Have you ever felt a little unsteady on your feet? Maybe you’ve even fallen. It could be related to balance, an important component of fitness that wanes as you age, particularly if you don’t work at preserving it.
Balance, the ability to move without falling, is a complex process that involves three different systems: The vestibular system, located in the inner ear and comprised of fluid-filled, semi-circular canals lined with tiny hairs that detect the position of the head; the vision system including your eyes and portions of the brain; and the somatosensory system, which includes your skin and muscles and joints.
They systems sends the information to the cerebellum, the movement center of the brain. The cerebellum has many functions including helping coordinate movement and working with anti-gravity muscles and information from the vestibullar system to make postural adjustments and sustain balance.
Aging can impair the inner ear, diminish vision, weaken muscles and stiffen joints, affecting our balance. And years of drinking alcohol can damage nerve cells in the cerebellum, raising the risk for a fall. Falling can be very problematic at any age, but falls put senior citizens at a higher risk for fracturing a bone and surgery-related complications. And if you develop a condition such as a gait disorder, arthritis, orthostatic hypotension, glaucoma, cataracts, diabetes retinopathy, vertigo or Meniere's disease, your balance will probably decline at a quicker pace.
“Many people think that poor balance is a senior citizen’s problem – it’s not. Balance begins deteriorating around age 30,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “You need to work maintaining your balance your entire life. And if you have your doctor’s clearance, you can begin working on it at any age.”
Need some help? Here are six tips to help you improve your balance and prevent falls and injuries.
Strengthen your core muscles to help align the spine and pelvis, stabilizing your body and improving posture and balance. Get clearance from your doctor and work with a fitness trainer. If you’re an MDVIP member, log onto MDVIP Connect — you’ll find exercise routines to help you improve your balance.
Work on your proprioception, which is your brain’s awareness of how your body is positioned and moving. Pain and a sedentary lifestyle can throw off your brains’ ability to sense and control movement. Activities that involve laying, sitting and standing while moving joints, like yoga, tai chi, Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method can help. Check with your doctor before joining a class or hiring a trainer.
Improve agility, which is your body’s ability to move quickly and easily. Agility often goes hand and hand with balance. If you need to move quickly but are not agile, you can lose your balance. If your doctor clears you, work a trainer who can teach you agility drills appropriate for your fitness level.
Use unilateral exercises to improve balance. If your doctor gives you permission, shift your weight to one side and lightly place the ball of the opposite foot on the floor as you brush your teeth. Keep your abdominals tight, shoulders down and eyes looking forward. Do your right side in the morning and left side in the evening.
Stabilize your ankles, as weak ankles can lead to falls. Try heel raises. Hold on to a counter or back of a stable chair, pull your abdominals in, keep your shoulders down and eyes looking forward as you rise up onto the balls of your feet and slowly lower down. Try ten repetitions.
Build bone density by incorporating weight bearing activities like walking, hiking and stair climbing into your weekly routine. These activities will help strengthen muscles and build bone density, which can help prevent injuries if you fall.
Take up a balance building activity such as yoga and tai chi. Work with a studio, gym or private trainer.
“You also should understand the side effects of your medications,” Kaminetsky says. “If dizziness, lightheadedness or fatigue are listed, ask your doctor if an alternative exists.”
Don’t have a doctor? If you don’t have a doctor, consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. MDVIP doctors have the time to work with you to help you manage conditions that may affect your balance. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health »