From the time we learn to take our first steps, we also begin to learn what it feels like to fall. Likewise, we learn to hold onto things like the edge of a table or our parents’ fingers to avoid falling. This natural avoidance to losing our balance is an important thing to have. According to the Center For Disease Control, one out of five falls will result in a serious injury such as a broken bone or a brain injury. Falls are not to be taken lightly!
On the flip side of that coin, we also cannot stop our daily activities due to the fear of experiencing a fall. Being cautious and avoiding certain activities or areas that may make us more prone to falling is wise, but like the CDC also notes, keeping active is one way of keeping us stronger, which can also help us avoid falling. Another way to help us build strength and fight the potential of falling is by exercising regularly. These 10 exercises, when done under the supervision of your physical therapist, can help you regain your balance and reduce your risk of falling.
- Simple Leg Lift – For this exercise, start with a kitchen chair setting in front of you. Steady yourself by holding onto the back of the chair, and raise one foot off the ground by bending your knee and bringing it up toward your waist. (It is preferable that you let go of the chair back so that you are balancing on your own without assistance, but if you’re unsure or unsteady, keep your hand on the chair.) Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, then try closing your eyes and holding the position for 5-10 seconds. Now use the other leg and do the same exercise.
- Weight Shifts – Another exercise to begin with is a Weight Shift. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. With your hands to your sides, or on your hips, lift one foot an inch or two off the floor and hold it there for 20-30 seconds. Set it down and repeat with the opposite foot. Do this as many times as you feel you can without getting too tired. As time goes by, the goal is to increase how many reps you do. If needed, you can also use a chair with this exercise to help give you added balance.
- One-Legged Clock – Standing on one foot, extend your arms straight above your head, as though you are signaling 12 o’clock on a clock face. Leaving your right hand on the “12,” move your left hand to the three, six, and nine o’clock positions (pausing at each position). Return your left hand to the 12, and repeat the movements using your right hand. Now, switch feet and repeat. To increase your workout, do it with your eyes closed.
- Tai Chi – Whether you sign up for a class, or follow along to online videos, Tai Chi has been shown to improve balance for its practitioners.
- Yoga – Like with Tai Chi, yoga has also been shown to improve the balance of those who practice it. Again, you can opt to take a class, or you can workout to an online video or DVD.
- Heel-to-Toe Walk – This exercise is simple, yet effective. Walk 20 paces forward, heel-to-toe. If needed, do this within arm’s reach of a wall to help you with keeping your balance. After you go forward 20 paces, go backward 20 paces — toe-to-heel. Doing this on a regular basis can help you regain a sense of balance.
- Squats – To do a squat, stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bending at the knee, and not the waist, squat down toward the floor, holding your arms straight out in front of you. Pretend you are sitting in an invisible dining chair. If needed, keep a chair in front of you to help you get up and down. This exercise will help strengthen your leg muscles, which is crucial for the prevention of falls. An alternative way to squat: start with your back and heels against a wall. Keeping your arms out in front of you, bend at the knee and slide down the wall to a seated-like position (again, pretend you are sitting in an invisible dining chair). Using your legs, push yourself back to a standing position. Having a wall behind you can be a big help when you’re starting out or if you need additional help with balance.
- Back Leg Raises – You can hold on to a kitchen chair when doing these leg raises, or you can place your hands on a wall, whichever is most comfortable for you. Once you have your chosen your preference, you will stand on one leg while raising the other one behind you. Try not to lean forward or bend the knee of the leg you’re raising; just lift your leg as far off the ground as is comfortable for you, hold it for a couple of seconds, and let it back down. Do this for 10 reps, then do the same thing with the opposite leg. This helps to build lower back muscles as well as buttock muscles.
- Side Leg Raises – Like with the Back Leg Raises, you can use a wall or a chair to steady yourself with. Then, standing on one foot, lift your other foot out to the side. Go as high as you are comfortable with, hold it for a couple of seconds, and let it back down. Again, do this for 10 reps, then repeat with the opposite leg. This exercise not only helps strengthen your buttocks, but it also helps with your thigh muscles and your hip muscles.
- Stability Ball – This ball may look like an over-sized beach ball, but it’s anything but. Just learning to sit on a stability ball can help improve your core strength, as well as your balance. After getting the hang of sitting on it, you can then incorporate it into various workout activities. You can sit on it while using dumbbells, or you can use it while doing sit-ups. It’s a very versatile tool to help improve balance and stability.
While these exercises can be a good starting point to help you improve your balance and reduce your risk of falling, your physical therapist may have additional exercises or variations that they can tailor specifically for you.
To your better balance,