Guest article by Melissa Bess*
Accidents are the ninth leading cause of death for those over age 65. Falls are a major factor in those accidents, causing over 18,000 deaths in 2007 (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control). Unintentional falls also cause many non-fatal injuries in older adults. Falls can occur because of declines in balance as we age, as well as slower reflexes and poor eyesight. The reason we lose balance as we age is usually due to not using the skill, but could also be related to a medical condition. Improvements in balance can help decrease risk for falls and slips.
Being active can help improve balance. Engaging in strength training and stretching activities will help keep joints and muscles more limber. Doing hip raises or leg lifts while standing behind a chair (while holding the chair) will help improve balance. Strengthening the knee can also be done sitting in a chair or standing behind a chair while holding on. Raise your knee as high as you can (up to hip level) and try to hold for 3 seconds. If you cannot hold the knee up for 3 seconds, hold it up for as long as possible and try to increase the time with each attempt. Toe raises can also be done while standing behind a chair. Toe tapping, even while sitting down, will help strengthen leg muscles, thus reducing the risk of falling.
Try these balance activities while standing next to something you can hold on to. Hold on to the chair at the start of each activity and then let go and see if you can hold the position for at least 10-15 seconds.
- Stand with one foot in front of the other, touching heel-to-toe, in a straight line.
- Practice standing on one leg.
- Stand heel-to-toe again, this time with eyes closed.
- Stand on one leg, this time with eyes closed.
- Stand heel-to-toe again, with eyes closed. Try to turn your head to look over your left shoulder, then back to the front, then over the right shoulder.
- Stand on your tiptoes or balance on one foot anytime you can – while talking on the phone, standing in line at the store, or while brushing your teeth.
- Walk down a halfway or next to a counter touching heel-to-toe with each step. See if you can do it just grazing your fingers or without touching.
If you cannot hold these for at least 10 seconds, time yourself to see how long you can. Work to increase that number every time you practice.
Adding a 30-minute walk at least 3 times a week can also help improve balance. If you cannot walk for 30 minutes straight, break that up into 2 or 3 shorter walks that add up to 30 minutes and increase up to a total of 30 minutes.
Just like with anything else, the harder you work at maintaining and improving your balance, the more benefit you will see. Your balance can deteriorate if you are not active and don’t use it often enough.
There are other factors that affect balance. Certain medications, impaired hearing or vision, medical conditions such as arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, or stroke, or vertigo, may also decrease balance. Talk with your physician if those are of concern to you.
*If you have questions or ideas for future articles, please contact Melissa Bess, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist with University of Missouri Extension. Call the Camden County MU Extension Center at 573-346-2644 or stop by our office at 44 Roofener St. in Camdenton, or email Melissa at [email protected].