As we get older it is important to retain good balance. Research shows that maintaining good balance can help to reduce falls and fall-related injuries. A recent Japanese study found that difficulty balancing on one leg for 20 seconds or more was linked to a higher risk of brain blood vessel damage and reduced thinking in otherwise healthy individuals, so balance may also be an indicator of brain health. The Medical Research Council found a poor result in a standing balance test was linked to higher mortality.
How do we test our balance? Stand with hands on hips and place the bottom of one foot against the inside knee of the other leg. Lift the heel of your standing leg off the floor so you’re balancing on the ball of your foot and time how long you can maintain this position, 30 seconds or above indicates good balance, below 10 seconds means you probably need to get practising. If this proved easy for you, try closing your eyes. The visual part of your balancing system sends signals to your brain regarding the body’s position and its surroundings and you may find this position hard to maintain.
So how can we improve our balance, well strength and flexibility exercises will help you increase muscle strength, maintain bone density, improve balance and reduce joint pain. Exercises that improve leg strength, balance and co-ordination can help people maintain and improve their muscle strength and avoid falls as they get older. Muscle-strengthening activities help maintain the ability to perform everyday tasks and slow down the rate of bone and muscle loss associated with ageing.
A strength exercise is any activity that makes your muscles work harder than usual, this increases your muscles’ strength, size, power and endurance. The activities involve using your body weight or working against a resistance.
Examples of leg-strengthening exercises include:
- Walking up stairs, you’re working against gravity as you push your body weight upwards so it’s good for strength and
- Hiking and hill walking
- Lifting weights, squats
- Tai chi
Health professionals believe that improving your flexibility can improve your posture, reduce aches and pains and lower your risk of injury. Good flexibility can also help you to continue carrying out everyday tasks.
Posture is very Important as good alignment minimises the load on muscles and joints and in turn creates maximum mobility and stability for the whole body. Avoid locking your knees, keep shoulders and arms relaxed. Strong abdominal muscles are key as they help to protect the back and help to keep you stable. Simple abdominal tucks that can be done anywhere involve drawing the lower part of your tummy back to your spine for a count of 10 without holding your breath or clenching buttocks. Try not to slump or arch in the lower and upper back, stand tall keeping your head upright neither tipping forward or backwards.
Try shifting your weight when standing still, make sure your weight is equally distributed, standing with feet hip-width apart then shift your entire body weight to your left side and lifting your right foot a few inches, hold for up to 30 seconds before switching sides.
Standing on a variety of surfaces will help to provide an added balance challenge, a thick carpet or a thin pillow or cushion. Lift one leg off the surface, hold for a count of five and repeat.
And it’s worth mentioning that it is thought that lack of sleep slows reaction time and a study found those who slept more than 5-7 hours each night were 40% less likely to fall than those who slept for less time.