Exercise programs commonly emphasize strength training and cardiovascular activity, but usually neglect efforts to keep your balance system healthy. Balance is maintained through a combination of factors including eyesight, feedback from your inner ear, and receptors located in your joints muscles and ligaments. Just like other body systems, balance can improve with the proper training and you are never too old to benefit from balance exercise. The following are some examples of balance training that span all functional levels.
Low level balance training:
Be sure to stand by a stationary object that can be grabbed if you feel unsteady. Attempt standing with the feet together for 10 to 30 seconds. Vary the exercise by standing with one foot in front of the other and then switching foot position. This exercise can be made more challenging by closing your eyes, or reaching outside of your base of support. Start with 5 minutes daily and try to progress to 15 minutes as tolerated.
Mid-level balance training:
If low level training is no longer challenging, switch to balancing on one foot for 10-30 seconds. Once again, this can be made more challenging by closing the eyes or reaching outside of your base of support. Another level of difficulty can be added by standing on one leg and trying to touch the opposite toe on every number of an imaginary clock that you are standing in the middle of.
High level balance training:
Adding balance equipment to your training adds the next level of difficulty to your routine. Most sporting goods stores sell balance boards, round boards, balance disks and other aids. You can also look for items around the house to add to your routine. Try walking tandem on a 2×4 forwards and backwards without falling off, or try throwing a ball against a wall and catching it while balancing on one leg.
Always be sure to practice in a safe environment and within your current capabilities.
By: Steven L. Bernstein PT, OMT