Prevent falls by strengthening balance with these simple exercises
When we’re young, falling down is an important part of learning to get back up.
But as we age, even a simple fall can pose a serious health risk, with the potential to result in everything from debilitating hip fractures to deadly intracranial bleeding. In fact, according to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries in those over age 65—and 1 in 4 of those adults experience a bad fall each year.
However, there are important—and easy—steps you can take to reduce your own risk of falling as you get older.
Many of them you have likely heard of—avoid throw rugs, wear no-slip socks, don’t leave cords on the ground—and these are all important. But according to SMH Trauma Injury Prevention Coordinator Casey Howell, RN, TCRN, these instructions skirt around the most important and overlooked factor of all: balance.
“The evidence proves that maintaining decent balance is the #1 contributing factor to fall prevention,” Howell says. “And it’s the one most in our control.”
And while it’s natural to lose muscle mass as we age, that doesn’t mean losing our ability to be active or maintain our balance. Falling down doesn’t have to be a “normal” part of aging.
“I can’t control whether my hearing or my vision go,” Howell says, “but I can take an active, responsible role in reducing my own fall risk by improving my balance.”
This doesn’t mean you suddenly have to start high-intensity cardio routines or pumping some serious iron. Rather, incorporating a few minutes of low-impact exercises that improve core strength, or even just a little yoga or tai-chi, could work wonders on both maintaining and regaining your balance.
“And increased balance directly correlates to reduction in falls,” says Howell.
Keep reading for some simple and low-impact exercises to strengthen core muscles and improve balance.
A classic balance exercise that takes only a moment and you can do almost anywhere, even peppered throughout the day.
Simply stand with feet shoulder-width apart, lift one leg off the ground while keeping your back straight, and hold for 10-15 seconds. Feel free to hold on to a wall or sturdy piece of furniture. As you gain strength, you can practice unassisted.
Repeat with the other leg, and that’s one set! Practicing in sets of five is recommended.
This simple exercise helps strengthen your core muscles that stabilize your spine.
Find a step or a low piece of furniture of similar height.
Stand in front of it with feet shoulder-width apart.
Slowly raise one foot and tap the top of the step in front of you, and then slowly bring your foot back to the floor. Feel free to hold on to a wall or sturdy piece of furniture. As you gain strength, you can practice unassisted.
Do this 15-20 times in a controlled and deliberate manner and then switch feet.
Another classic exercise, this one can be done wherever you can find (or make) a straight line on the ground.
Simply stand at one end of the line, put your arms out to both sides, and walk heel-to-toe down the line. Count at least five seconds between each step and be careful to keep each step on the line.
Try doing this once a day.
Another great exercise for strengthening the core, you can do this one quickly at the dinner table before sitting for a meal.
Stand up straight with feet shoulder-width apart.
While keeping straight and not leaning, lift one leg until it forms a right angle with your body—like a formal march—and then slowly return it to a standing position. Feel free to hold on to a wall or sturdy piece of furniture. As you gain strength, you can practice unassisted.
Do this as many as 10 times with each leg, but remember that every little bit helps.
At home or in a class, yoga often provides a great, low-impact routine for strengthening your core, increasing your flexibility, and maintaining good balance. And for those looking to regain their balance and core strength, such as anyone recovering from injury or illness, chair yoga provides a great opportunity to begin developing both strength and balance.
You can find multiple yoga classes, including chair yoga and therapeutic yoga, led by trained professionals at HealthFit.
Or perhaps just try a couple poses at home, such as…
A classic yoga pose most have likely seen, it’s like an upgraded version of the single-leg stand. Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart and back straight.
Lift one leg and turn the sole of your foot inward, bringing it to rest on the inner thigh of the opposite leg, forming something of a triangle. Keep your back straight and don’t lean.
Feel free to hold on to a wall or sturdy piece of furniture. As you gain strength, you can practice unassisted.
If balance permits, bring your hands in together in front of your chest.
Hold for 10-20 seconds.
Try to sprinkle some of these core and balance exercises throughout your day until they become part of your routine. The best way to prevent dangerous falls as we age is to keep our balance in the first place.
Written by Sarasota Memorial copywriter Philip Lederer, MA, who crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. SMH’s in-house wordsmith, Lederer earned his Master’s degree in Public Administration and Political Philosophy from Morehead State University, Ky, and always wears a helmet when falling in love.