Maintaining your balance is important, and is something we rarely think about until a fall happens. It’s not only the elderly who are prone to falls. If our core strength is not up to snuff, it’s far easier to be tripped up by things as we go about our everyday activities, whether it’s riding a bike, getting in and out of the tub or just walking up and down stairs. A strong core and better sense of balance can reduce back pain, improve posture and lower your risk of falling. Following are a few ways in which you can improve your balance.
Connect with your vestibular system – It’s the vestibular system in the inner ear that works in cooperation with the visual system to keep you from falling over. If one of these is disturbed, it makes it much harder to keep balanced. And as we age, the sensory receptors in these systems begin to deteriorate, making balance more difficult. There are some simple exercises you can do to help keep this system honed:
Learn how it feels to be balanced by standing with your feet hip width apart with your eyes closed. Then, with your eyes still closed move your feet together until they are touching. Notice how it gets a bit more difficult to maintain balance when your center of gravity is smaller.
While standing near a support, rise onto the balls of your feet, hold for a couple of seconds, then come down. Repeat this ten times, then try doing it with your eyes closed.
Stand on one leg, raising the other knee to your chest and hold for 10 seconds, then repeat with the other leg. If you’re having trouble, focus on a stationary object in front of you, as the visual cues will send messages to your brain to help keep you balanced. When you’ve got this mastered, try it with your eyes closed.
Stand with the toes of one foot touching the heel of the other for 10 seconds, then switch legs. It’s interesting to note that it’s often more difficult to maintain your balance when one leg rather than the other is the one in front. Next, try it with your eyes closed.
Walk across the room heel to toe, then try it with your eyes closed. If feeling adventurous, walk the same way backwards with your eyes closed!
Take up Tai Chi – The calm, flowing movements of the ancient Chinese art of Tai Chi have been shown to significantly improve balance and coordination. Studies on older adults have found that those who practiced Tai Chi only three times each week benefited from a major improvement in balance, stability and lower body strength. Another study published in the journal Aging Clinical Experimental Research found that practicing Tai Chi on a regular basis caused an enhancement of neuromuscular response in the ankle joint, which is something that can help reduce your risk of a fall.
Eat some blueberries – Odd as this may sound, blueberries may help improve your balance. Researchers fed elderly rats the equivalent of a cup of blueberries daily and found an improvement in coordination, balance and short-term memory.