Balance – Don’t Leave Home Without It!
Meredith Nelson, M.Ed.
PrimeTime Fitness, Inc.
Maintaining balance is critical for us as we age, as most seniors experience falls due to a loss of balance. Even a little tumble can result in broken bones, leading to a major disruption in life. What would have resulted in bruises and bumps in our earlier years can end in dramatic lifestyle changes in an older adult. Such falls often occur on uneven surfaces, slippery surfaces, and when getting out of bed in the middle of the night.
Younger adults usually have a much quicker reaction time and can often correct a loss of balance before a fall actually occurs. With aging, we naturally experience a loss of muscle mass and therefore a loss of strength, making it even more important to practice healthy habits including regular exercise. Many seniors can benefit from not only consistent strength-training and aerobic exercise, but also specific balance training. I work with older adults with a wide range of abilities – some seniors are very active, while others are quite frail. Because of this, I find that balance training is most effectively done either individually or in very small groups.
I often begin a workout with dynamic balance movements. Active, dynamic stretching; weight-shifting; gait practice – these are all effective ways to acclimate the body for the movements to come during the workout, and also help to “wake up” the neuromuscular pathways that signal the body to ease into motion. After a dynamic warm-up, we move into a strength training routine which differs for the individual based on their specific weaknesses. The strength training segment usually contains lower body exercises which may focus on the feet, ankles, and calves, as well as the large muscle groups of thighs and glutes. Core stability is a must, and we often include upper body strengthening exercises – either mixed in to provide for a built-in rest for the lower body, or as a separate component altogether.
Static stretching at the end is often enjoyed by our clients, and not only allows the client to enjoy the benefits of the stretches, but a period of mental relaxation as well.
Here is an example of one balance exercise, and how it may be modified as you progress:
Holding onto a chair or sturdy rail if needed, balance on one foot for up to 10 seconds.
Progress to 15 seconds, then 20.
Easy? Try it with your eyes closed (be sure to stay near your chair)!
Mastered the Standing Balance exercise? Try this one:
Place the heel of one foot six inches to one foot in front of the toes of the other foot.
Taking a step, move your back foot to the front, again placing the heel six inches to one foot in front of the toes of the other foot.
Repeat for up to 20 steps.
Easy? Try placing each heel so close that it touches, or almost touches, the toes of the other foot. Be sure to keep your gaze focused on a spot ahead of you.
Got this one down too? See if you can do the next one!
With arms out to sides at shoulder height for balance, pick a spot ahead of you and focus on it.
Begin to walk in a straight line.
As you take a step, raise your back leg and pull it forward to balance, pausing for a second before placing that foot on the floor and taking the next step. Try to balance with your knee at hip level.
Repeat for up to 20 steps.
Easy? Try holding the balance position up to 5 seconds before placing each foot on the floor and taking the next step.
Meredith Nelson, M.Ed, is the owner of PrimeTime Fitness, Inc, in Mt. Pleasant. Certified through AFAA in Group Fitness, ACE as a Personal Trainer and Medical Exercise Specialist, and TPI as a golf fitness professional, Meredith has been bringing fitness to the East Cooper area for over twenty years. Now located just across the causeway at 1558 Ben Sawyer Boulevard, PrimeTime Fitness caters to the mature exerciser and offers personal and small group training, indoor cycling, yoga, golf fitness training, monthly gym membership, and more. Meredith can be reached with your fitness questions at 843-883-0101, or Meredith@primetimefit.net.