Equilibrium, or balance, is critical for the health and safety of senior citizens. Seniors who do not exercise regularly can develop weak muscles in their lower body and balance problems, which can lead to falls. The older you get, the more likely you will fall. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of three seniors over age 65 falls each year. You can reduce your risk of falling by exercising regularly to improve leg strength and equilibrium.
Prepare to Exercise
Before you begin any exercise program, see your doctor for a complete check-up. Discuss your plans with your doctor and talk about the type of exercises that can help you reach your fitness goals. You should also prepare yourself and your home before you start doing equilibrium exercises. Choose a sturdy, stable, armless chair to hold on to if you need help to balance in the beginning. Wear smooth shoes that won't stick to the floor, but not so smooth as to cause you to slip and fall. Use painter's tape to make a straight line on the floor to walk along.
Some easy exercises that you can do at home or just about anywhere include standing on one foot and leg raises. Hold on to your sturdy chair with one hand and lift one leg off the floor a couple of inches. Hold the balanced position for 10 seconds and then repeat on the other leg. Try to balance on one leg without holding the chair as you progress. Balance on one leg while lifting your other leg forward or backward. On the line of painter's tape on the floor, walk heel-to-toe back and forth. Make sure there are no obstacles in the way or area rugs on the floor that could cause you to slip and fall. Add some more challenging exercises when you progress to the point that you can do these exercises with your eyes closed.
Many of the video games that young people play require physical movements. Exergames are video games that combine video gaming with exercise. Playing exergames can help improve your equilibrium and overall physical fitness. According to a study published in the "Studies in Health Technology and Health Informatics," researchers in the Netherlands found that after six weeks, balance improved in elderly people who played exergames designed to improve balance. Seniors who enjoy video games may benefit from balance-oriented exergames at home.
Tai chi has long been touted as a very stimulating exercise for the mind as well as the body. Tai chi improves bone health and joint stability, and provides some cardiovascular training. Tai chi poses emphasize balance to improve equilibrium to prevent falls. According to an article published on the Harvard Health Publications website, tai chi can help reduce senior falls by up to 45 percent. The slow, purposeful movements of tai chi are generally safe for seniors of all levels of fitness who have obtained medical clearance.
If you think it, you can do it. Ideokinetic facilitation, or imagining yourself performing an exercise, may help to improve your performance of equilibrium exercises. Ideokinetic facilitation is imagining, or mentally picturing, yourself flawlessly performing a movement. A study published in the "Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association" reports that elderly women who practiced ideokinetic facilitation followed by physical practice of balance exercise improved performance of those exercises. A physical therapist who is trained in ideokinetic facilitation will be able to provide precise instruction.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Falls Among Older Adults: An Overview
- Elder Gym: Elderly Balance Exercises for Seniors to Help Prevent Falls
- NIH: National Institute on Aging: Exercise & Physical Activity
- Studies in Health Technology and Health Informatics: Active Video Gaming to Improve Balance in the Elderly
- Harvard Health Publications: Try Tai Chi to Improve Balance, Avoid Falls
- Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association: Effects of Mental Practice on Balance
- Photo Credit Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images