As we get older, it’s common to worry about cancer, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. But, the leading cause of injury and death isn’t disease. No, the leading cause of death and injury in people over age 65 is falling.
Every year, around 25 percent of seniors fall. And, once you fall, your chances of falling again are doubled. Even though not every fall results in an injury, around 20 percent of them do. Falling is the most common cause of hip fractures and traumatic brain injuries. Even when you survive your injuries, the damage may be permanent and includes disability and loss of independence.
One of the best things you can do to protect yourself is improve your balance and stability. This post looks at conditions that may affect balance and explains exercises you can perform to strengthen and improve stability.
What Is Good Balance?
When your sense of balance is good, your weight is distributed evenly, allowing you to move more smoothly and easily. It also means that, when you do slip or trip, you’re able to recover without falling.
Multiple body parts affect balance, including your bones, eyes, central nervous system, inner ear, joints, and muscles. When any of these is “off,” your balance may be, too.
You have little control over most of the risk factors for the systems that affect balance. For example, diseases and disorders that impact your central nervous system, such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, can’t be avoided through lifestyle changes. Other risk factors outside your control include:
- Inner ear conditions that may cause dizziness or vertigo
- Vision distortion due to cataracts, glaucoma, or macular degeneration
- Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage in the lower extremities)
- Certain medications that may cause dizziness
The one area you can impact and reduce your risk of falling is through improving muscle strength, particularly the large muscles of your abdomen and legs.
Balancing Exercises to Improve Core Strength
There are some very simple exercises you can do to improve large muscle strength in your abdomen and legs, which should help improve your balance. You don’t need any special equipment and you don’t even have to leave your home. As always, talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen.
Position a chair against a wall and place a small pillow at the back of the seat. Sit at the front of the seat with your feet slightly apart and flat on the floor, knees bent. Cross your arms over your chest, hands on your shoulders, and lean back, keeping your back and shoulders straight. Sit upright again, then slowly stand and sit down again. Repeat 10 times. Do two sets.
Move forward placing the heel of your right foot directly in front of the toes of your left foot, so that your heel and toes touch. Support yourself with one hand on the counter if you need to, working toward doing the walk without support. Take 10 steps, rest, and repeat three times.
Stand 12″ behind a sturdy chair, arms extended and holding the chair back. Bend forward to a 45-degree angle and slowly raise your right leg behind you, lifting it as high as possible without bending the knee. Hold for 1-2 seconds and then slowly lower your leg. Repeat 10 times and then switch legs. Do two sets.
Side leg raise
Stand 12″ behind a sturdy chair, arms extended and holding the chair back. Raise your left leg to the side, keeping your knee straight, until your foot is around 8″ above the floor. Hold for 1-2 seconds and then slowly lower your foot. Repeat 10 times and repeat with your right leg. Do two sets.
Stand on one foot
Stand on your left foot for as long as you can (aim for 30 seconds) then lower your right foot, steady your body, and repeat with your other foot. You may need to support yourself with a chair or counter in the beginning. Repeat three times for each leg.
Stand on tiptoe
Stand with your feet flat on the floor, holding onto a chair or counter for balance. Raise yourself onto your toes, hold for 1-2 seconds, and the lower back to feet flat on the floor. Repeat 10 times. Do two sets.
Reduce Accident Risks and Stay Balanced
In addition to building core muscle strength, you can remove hazards from around the home. Secure loose rugs with tape or tacks and improve lighting throughout your home to help you see obstacles more easily. Also, if you need handrails or grab bars on stairs, in the bath, or anywhere else, install them.
If you worry you may have an issue with balance, talk to your doctor. Medicare Part B covers diagnostic hearing and balance exams ordered by your provider. In addition, some Medicare Advantage plans cover hearing and vision screenings.
If you have either a Medigap or Medicare Advantage plan and aren’t sure what it covers, call us toll-free at 855-350-8101 to speak to a licensed sales agent.