As we grow older an active lifestyle becomes more important than ever. Regular exercise will boost energy levels, assist to manage pain and to help maintain our independence as we age.
Starting and maintaining a regular exercise routine is not always as easy as it first appears.
Whether you have a niggling injury, or you would like to improve your overall strength and fitness, one thing any physiotherapist/exercise physiologist will tell you is that balance is key.
A large contributing factor to falls is decreased balance. Over time our muscles naturally begin to reduce in size. This directly affects our strength and balance and increases our risk of falling.
The good news is, like most things health-related, you are in control of how you approach maintaining your health. There are many things you can do to help improve your balance and reduce your risk of falls.
Great balance will keep you ahead of the game so you can enjoy life, stay strong and keep active; and it can easily be practiced in the comfort of your own home.
Working with professionals
There are many types of balance exercises you can participate in, such as belly dancing, aqua classes and tai chi – however, before you jump straight into these, it’s a good idea to make sure you are physically up to it.
But just how much of an issue is balance with older people and how can you tell how good your balance is?
Mobile Rehab managing director, founder and physiotherapist Helen Weston says balance is definitely a primary focus, as it is one of the key measurements of overall function.
Weston whose agency does a great deal of work with residents of Aveo communities, says despite the fact Aveo offers an extensive well-being program for all residents, falling remains a real fear.
“There are any number of exercises you can do to improve balance. If you are worried about your balance, or already know that it’s a medical problem like vertigo, then it’s better initially to work with an allied health professional.”
Testing your balance
Weston suggests trying these simple tests at home to get an accurate gauge of how well you are able to balance.
Begin by standing at your kitchen bench and rest your hands on the bench for support. Place your feet about shoulder width apart.
1. Standing on two feet can you close your eyes without excessive swaying or increasing your grip on the bench? Well done. You could try the next exercise.
2. Can you comfortably stand on one leg without excessive swaying or gripping? This is great. Have a go at the next one.
3. Can you stand on one leg with your eyes closed (holding on); count how long (one banana, two banana, three banana etc.)? Teriffic - most healthy people over the age of 60 can only do this for two seconds without holding on.
4. Olympic level - don't try this one until you have mastered the first three. One leg, eyes closed, hands off the bench.
Weston says it's vitally important to stay safe. She recommends completing the above with a friend, and while holding onto the bench.
“You should not experience any pain or dizziness while doing these activities. If you do, stop immediately and consult your medical professional,” she says.
Your balance can be improved, along with exercise, by looking at how appropriate your footwear is, managing your medication, looking after your eyesight, or reviewing your home environment to see if anything could be made safer.
This could be minor modifications to your home with specially designed equipment, or just tidying up some of the clutter around your home.
Don’t wait until something happens before you think about your balance. Start working on improving your balance today, so you can get on with all your plans uninterrupted by frustrations and appointments.
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