Physical balance is a key indicator of your future wellness. According to the CDC, more than one third of adults 65 and older fall each year in the United States.
If you have poor balance, you are at a much higher risk of falling. Age, sedentary lifestyles, diabetes and lack of practice can result in dwindling strength and physical capacities.
When you have a sense of physical balance and stability, you feel more grounded and supported. This can carry over to other areas of your life as well.
The great news it that balance can be improved significantly with practice. Here are some exercises you can do at home with a chair:
- Staggered stance: Stand behind the chair, close enough that you can reach the chair and hold on with both hands if necessary for balance. Put your right foot directly in front of your left foot with your left toes touching your right heel. Keep your shoulders back, abs tight and head up. Hold your balance for 30 to 45 seconds. Switch feet and repeat.
- Standing on one foot: Stand to the side of the chair, close enough that you can still hold it with one hand. Lift your foot farthest from the chair as high as you feel comfortable and hold for 30 to 45 seconds. Keep your shoulders back, abs tight and head up. Repeat with your other leg on the other side of the chair.
- Reach and put: Stand to the side of a chair with both feet on the floor. Slowly lift your foot and arm farthest from the chair, as high as you would when getting something off a shelf. Then step to the side with your raised foot, while slowly reaching to the side with your raised arm as if you’re putting an item on a table. Keep your knees slightly bent. Repeat eight to 10 times on each side.
- Kicks to the side: Stand behind the chair with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your shoulders back, head up and abs tight. Slowly raise your right leg out and to the side, then bring it back down to the floor. Repeat 10 to 15 times for each leg.
- Standing calf raise: Stand behind a chair with your feet shoulder-width apart and your fingers touching the back of the chair. Keep your shoulders back, abs tight and head up. Raise up onto the balls of your feet, or your toes, as high as you feel comfortable. Hold for 30 to 45 seconds while keeping your balance, then slowly drop your heels down until your feet are back on the floor. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
All of these exercises use a chair to help with your stability, and they only require your body as resistance. You can do them by yourself and the repetitions can be increased over time as you get stronger. Remember to always use a stable chair without any wheels.
Ask your primary care provider before doing these to make sure they are appropriate exercises for you. If you need more guidance, ask your provider for a referral to a physical therapist. They are a knowledgeable, trusted resource.
Here are a few other ways to increase your balance:
- Yoga, Tai Chi or stretching - try a gentle class
- Bones and balance classes at Linn-Benton Community College, Oregon State University, SamFit or your local senior center. Check your local libraries for DVDs or books you can use at home
- Basic water aerobics classes
- Cardiac rehabilitation classes at Samaritan-affiliated hospitals
- Miriam Nelson, PhD, has a program and book through Tufts University on the StrongWomen Program for strength training
- CDC.gov: Facts about falls and prevention
- Healthfinder.gov: Support for caregivers
- National Council on Aging: Fall prevention resources
- National Institute for Aging: Fall-proofing your home
Whatever you do, remember you can improve with practice and motivation. Stay strong!
Jamie Brown is a registered nurse and dietitian, certified diabetes educator and manager of the Diabetes Education team at Samaritan Albany General Hospital.
Learn more about the services that Jamie’s team provides.