How Seniors Can Improve Balance

October 26, 2020

As we age, staying upright just isn’t what it used to be. And for most of us, going viral in a video of embarrassing falls is not exactly on the bucket list.

On a more serious note, we also know that the consequences of falling get worse in our golden years. One in three adults age 65 and older falls each year, and up to 30 percent suffer moderate to severe injuries. According to the National Council on Aging, there’s a common misconception that the best way to prevent falls is to stay home and limit activity. The truth is, over half of all falls actually take place at home — and regular physical activity is the key to staying limber and steady on your feet.

“Balance exercises are so incredibly vital for helping seniors stay healthy, independent and mobile well into an advanced age,” says Debbie Cohen, CA personal trainer who works primarily with those age 50 and up. 

 

First, do some dynamic stretching

Before doing any balance exercises, a proper warmup in is non-negotiable for injury prevention. Warming up gives the body a chance to lubricate the joints and pump blood into your muscles, where it can provide oxygen and nutrients to lower the chance of a muscle pull.

There’s two main types of stretching — dynamic and static. The ideal warmup involves the dynamic kind, which “get your body moving, your heart pumping and your muscles warm,” says Cohen. Dynamic stretches are active movements, which means your joints and muscles go through a full range of motion, and they also raise your core temperature. Static stretches, which are held for longer periods of time, lower your temperature, which is why they’re best saved for your cooldown instead.

Here are a few of Cohen’s go-to dynamic stretches for warming up:

  • March in place with high knees. For extra balance, hold onto a wall or railing. If you have limited mobility, shuffle one foot side to side without raising the knees too high.
  • Glute kicks. Stand up straight with your feet hip-distance apart. Bring one heel off the floor toward your glutes. At the same time, match this movement with the opposite-side hand coming up towards your shoulder. Repeat this movement on the other side, again with the opposite arm coming up towards your shoulder.
  • Shoulder rolls. Stand up straight and raise your shoulders up, back, then down. Relax and repeat on both sides. 
  • Arm circles. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold your arms out to the sides at shoulder height, palms down. Gently take your circles in each direction.
  • Leg swings. Stand up straight and swing one leg forward like you’re kicking a ball, then swing back. Next, take your swings side to side. Repeat on both sides. 
  • Take a brisk five to 10 minute walk, whether outside or on the treadmill. A stationary bike is also a great warmup. 

Note: Your warmup isn’t meant to be super vigorous or intense! It should feel gentle and be done smoothly, without fast or jerky movements.

Balance Exercises For Seniors To Try 

According to Cohen, the importance of doing regular balance exercises can’t be overstated. She works with clients well into their 90s, including those who are looking to regain balance after a stroke. No matter your current fitness level or how wobbly you feel, there’s plenty of gentle modifications you can take to make balance exercises accessible, such as using a wall or chair for extra support. 

The American Heart Association recommends that older adults at risk of falls do balance training three or more days a week. If you have any medical conditions, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before getting started. While yoga and tai chi are two popular examples, the beauty of balance exercises is that they can be done anywhere and there’s no equipment needed.

To help you get started, Cohen shared a series of simple balance exercises that she does with her clients. She offered three versions, starting with the most gentle and advancing to the more challenging variations.

Her best tips for success? Maintain good posture and form, focus your gaze on a fixed point to stay steady and make sure you’re well-hydrated. And, of course, sit down and take a break whenever you need it — balance is a marathon, not a sprint!

Version 1 

Debbie Cohen, CA personal trainerDebbie Cohen, CA personal trainerDebbie Cohen, CA personal trainer

Stand by a wall or railing that you can hold on to with proper posture. Then, stand on the right foot and draw your left foot off the floor and out to the side for a few seconds (or, you can lift the left knee up instead). Repeat on both sides. Once you’ve mastered this move, work on balancing with just one hand and eventually no hands. 

Version 2

Time to bring some weights into the mix! Add a 3 lb. weight to lift on same side as your standing foot (so if you’re standing on your right leg, you would use your right arm). You can either raise the weight up and and down to the side, or try bicep curls. “While this might seem difficult, it actually tends to help because it gives you a counterbalance,” says Cohen. For more of a challenge, use a heavier weight. 

Version 3

Debbie Cohen, CA personal trainerDebbie Cohen, CA personal trainer

The BOSU Ball, found in CA’s three fitness clubs, is amazing for helping you boost balance and build core and lower-body strength. “Because it’s not a stable surface, it adds an extra challenge,” says Cohen. Try Version 1 on the BOSU, again starting with both hands on the wall until you advance to the hands-free move. The BOSU is flat on one side and rounded on the other, so to take things even further, you can flip the BOSU upside down (as seen in the third photo). Just remember to take it slow and center yourself, rather than hopping back and forth between both sides.

 

Find Balance With CA’s Fitness Clubs

Looking to kickstart your balance routine? There’s plenty of ways CA can help you stay limber!

  • Our three fitness clubs offer a variety of classes designed specifically for seniors. You can find increase your mobility by attending a Joints in Motion class or relieve stiffness in the pool by registering for Aqua ArthritisLearn more about our fitness classes for mature adults here.
  • Personal trainers like Cohen can help personalize your balance training and provide invaluable one-on-one attention. Learn more about our personal training options here.
  • Columbia Athletic Club offers special “seniors only” hours for all 1Fit and CA Fit&Play members. The facility closes at 1pm for cleaning, and then is open for those age 60+ from 1:30-3:30pm. Come enjoy free range of the facility during these hours!
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