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. This 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 balance exercises for elderly people that are designed with your needs in mind, as well as some solid life-changing tips. Here’s twelve of the best tips and balance exercises you can start now.
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, or gamify it at home
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.
One group of researchers has also found that exercise facilitated by technology can also have significant benefits for the elderly.
Dance exercises via video game consoles were added to a physiotherapy program for the pelvic floor muscles for elderly patients. The exercise program was intended to help elderly women with urinary incontinence.
Once the dance exercises were added to the program, the researchers observed several benefits, including:
- Greater decrease than usual in daily urine leakage
- No program dropouts
- Higher weekly participation
While the dance moves did indeed help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, it was noted that one of the biggest benefits was compliance. Because participants had fun dancing and socializing, they didn’t drop out of the program. This led to more practice of the exercises, which led to stronger muscles, inadvertently improving balance.
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 balance exercises 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.
Physical exercise, in particular, seems to have a multitude of benefits for elderly people. Small areas of brain damage are common in elderly individuals. For instance, white matter hyperintensities are visible on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests. Increased levels of white matter hyperintensities are associated with movement problems, like difficulty walking.
However, a recent study found that exercise can reduce the movement problems associated with this type of brain damage. Exercise was measured with movement monitors on the wrists. Participants also took 11 different movement ability tests and had MRIs done to measure the volume of white matter hyperintensities. The results showed that the more active the individuals were, the more capable they were as far as physical movement. This occurred even when there was brain damage present. The reverse was also true. The less active they were, the poorer they scored on the movement tests.
Additionally, more intensive cardiovascular exercise seems to be beneficial.
One study found that elderly people who run regularly have a lower metabolic cost of walking, as compared to sedentary elderly people. The metabolic cost is the amount of energy required to move. It naturally increases with age. This movement more taxing and contributes to declining walking ability. This decline is a key predictor of morbidity. However, it was found that older joggers and runners have a metabolic cost similar to people in their 20s. Walking regularly can benefit metabolic cost, too, but running produced 7-10% higher results.
11. Look to your spouse
In addition to exercise and other healthy habits, the wellbeing of an elderly individual is closely connected to the health of his or her spouse.
Specifically, cognitive and physical health of one older person will affect the same in his or her spouse, as noted in an article from the University of Arizona:
“Husbands’ and wives’ quality of life appears to be equally impacted by their spouse’s physical health, with no difference across gender lines. In other words, a wife’s physical health impacts her husband’s quality of life as much as a husband’s physical health affects his wife’s quality of life…. With regard to cognition, wives’ cognitive functioning appears to have as much of an effect of husbands’ quality of life as husbands’ own cognitive abilities. Wives’ quality of life was not as strongly affected by their husbands’ cognition, but there was a measurable impact.”
Also noted is that in the study used to reach these conclusions, survey results were gathered at three different intervals. Overall quality of life changed similarly between husbands and wives. In other words, if the overall quality of life of one individual changed, his or her spouse’s overall quality of life mirrored that change.
To implement the best balance exercises then, make sure your spouse or partner is an active participant in your plan.
12. See a specialist
Researchers have also found that specialized care for elderly people also has significant benefits.
For instance, when an elderly person is injured and goes to the emergency room, he or she will likely be seen by a variety of specialists. This may include neurologists, orthopedists, etc. However, it’s rare that he or she will be seen by a geriatrician. This is a physician who specializes in the care of elderly people.
In one study, though, researchers compared the results of elderly people hospitalized after trauma (usually a fall). When a geriatrician was involved and collaborated with the trauma surgeon to assess level of functioning, family support, financial challenges, mobility, and cognition, the patient did better. It’s suggested that this is because a more comprehensive understanding of an elderly person’s home situation can lead to a more appropriate care plan. When a geriatrician helps paint a more complete picture of what an elderly patient’s overall condition is, that patient’s medical team can better personalize his or her healthcare.
House calls have also been found to benefit elderly individuals. When in-home primary care was provided, elderly people were less likely to be readmitted to a hospital within 30 days of discharge. They also received prompt follow-up care and medication review. Not only did this provide high-quality care and improve patient satisfaction, but it saved an average of over $3,000 per person.
With the increasing number of elderly individuals in the United States, knowing how to provide the best care possible is vital. The more researchers can learn about how to improve the health of elderly people, the better we can eventually do at developing age-friendly communities and more healthier aging habits.
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