Today and tomorrow’s Keep Fit at Home blogs for the coronavirus ‘stay at home’ lockdown will focus on gentle exercises to help you maintain a good sense of balance.
As we grow older and become less active, or have to cope with reduced mobility, having good physical balance becomes increasingly important. Loss of balance can easily lead to a fall, with potentially 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 be other complications arising from a fall.
As with most things in life, prevention is better than cure and there are sensible measures you can take around your home to guard against a fall, such as removing trailing wires, loose rugs or other trip hazards. But you can also improve yourself through a series of gentle exercises designed to maintain and improve your balance.
Like the previous exercises in this series, these come from the NHS UK website and are suitable for people with limited mobility to do at home. Most people should be able to manage these gentle exercises at their own pace, or modify them slightly to suit their own needs or abilities.
You should start slowly and build up steadily as you feel able; never overdo it. Wear loose, comfortable clothing and have some water at hand. 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, dizzy, or something hurts, stop for a while. 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, although under the current restrictions it must be someone already living in your household. You could also do them next to something solid, like the back of a sofa or a kitchen worktop, which you can reach out for if you need extra support. Today we’ll look at the first two balance exercises, with three more 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 take extra care and take a break if you need it.