As we grow older and become less active or have to cope with reduced mobility for a variety of reasons, it becomes increasingly important to maintain a good sense of balance.
Loss of balance can easily lead to a fall, with potentially very serious consequences. Children and young people usually ‘bounce back’ from a fall pretty quickly, but as we get older it can take far longer to recover and there can also be other complications arising from a fall.
As with most things in life, prevention is better than cure and we have looked in previous blogs at sensible measures you can take around your home to guard against a fall. However, you can also improve yourself through a series of gentle exercises specifically designed to maintain and improve your balance.
In previous blogs in this series we have looked at gentle exercises you can do while sitting down, and at exercises designed to maintain and improve your strength in later years. These, and the balance exercises we’ll feature today, are all taken from the NHS Choices website, and you can find them by clicking here. You can also download each of the exercise routines and print them off for ease of reference.
If you haven’t done any exercise for a while or have an underlying medical condition, you should consult your GP or other medical professional before embarking on any new exercise programme. However, most people should be able to do these gentle exercises at their own pace, or modify them slightly to suit their own needs or limitations.
Another golden rule is to start slowly and build up steadily as you feel able. A little and often is far better than overdoing it. Wear loose, comfortable clothing and keep some water handy. You should aim to do these exercises at least twice a week, but go at your own pace and listen to your body; if you get out of breath, or dizzy, or something hurts, stop for a while. Aim to increase the number of times you do each exercise (called ‘repetitions’) over time.
If you struggle with balance, you might want someone to watch over you when you first try these exercises, until you gain in confidence. You could also do them next to something solid, like the back of a sofa or a kitchen worktop, which you reach out for if you need extra support. Today we’ll look at the first two balance exercises, with three more to come tomorrow:
Sideways walking: As with all these exercises, perform this one slowly and deliberately and make sure first that there are no obstructions in your way. First, stand with your feet together and your knees very slightly bent (fig. A). Next, step sideways, either left or right, in a slow and controlled manner, moving one foot to the side first until your feet are just over shoulder width apart (fig. B). When you feel balanced, move your other foot to join the first so that your feet are back together (fig. C). Now repeat this sideways step to perform 10 steps (or as far as the space you have allows) then go back in the other direction. Don’t rush – take each step at a time, concentrating on your balance and breathing as you go.
Simple grapevine: This is another type of sideways walking, but a bit harder as it involves crossing one foot over the other. Remember, you might want someone standing next to you ready to give support until you get the hang of it. Start by standing up straight with your feet together, then cross you right foot over your left and plant it firmly on the floor (fig. A). Moving your arms out to the sides might help you to balance. Once you feel balanced, slowly bring your left foot round behind your right and back to the side of it, so that you’re standing up straight again. Repeat this crossover step five times, then go back for five steps in the opposite direction. You could do this exercise facing a wall and with your fingertips against it to give extra confidence at first. The smaller the step, the more you work on your balance.
Remember, if you struggle with balance or suffer from dizzy spells (maybe due to low blood pressure) you should consult your doctor or other health professional before starting an exercise regime. However, most people should be able to manage these gentle exercises by taking them slowly and steadily and building up gradually.
One place where you should never gamble with balance is on the stairs in your home. A fall is never good wherever it happens, but a fall on the stairs could be catastrophic. Fitting an Acorn Stairlift in your home removes the risk of losing your balance, becoming dizzy or falling on the stairs. It can also help you conserve energy which could then be better spent on these gentle exercises to improve balance, strength, co-ordination and flexibility.