Whether through functional neglect of your subordinate side or a host of other reasons, you may be at increased risk for injury due to lack of balance. If you’re in the over-65 crowd, you’re especially susceptible to having balance issues. In fact, this is a huge reason that more than 30% of adults over age 65 fall each year. While you might think that falling is no big deal, consider the time and money spent on physical therapy, surgery, and/or rehab, and I’m pretty sure you’d rather spend your valuable resources on something else. Whether that something is a job, charity work, a hobby, your family, or something else, it must be more enjoyable than frequent flier miles to the doctor’s office.
Many balance issues are caused by failure to include a structured exercise routine in your life. Even regular activity is no replacement for an exercise routine. Let’s start by evaluating your balance needs.
Try this simple balance test: with bare feet, stand on a flat surface and try to balance on one leg. Make sure the knee of your supporting leg is unlocked. Now begin timing yourself. Can you make it at least 10 seconds without losing your balance? If you needed to use your other foot or to reach out to hold something, then you didn’t pass the test.
It stands to reason that we rely greatly on our foot and ankle muscles in order to maintain good balance. When our balance is disturbed, it’s those muscles that jump in first to help us remain upright. Those muscles can be weakened due to our wearing supportive shoes — something we generally think of as being good for us. Basically, the issue is that shoes can take over the foot muscles’ job by artificially stabilizing the foot. Whenever a muscle is unnecessary, atrophy can result.
In order to help you begin to overcome your balance issues, the following exercise progression can help. Like any exercise, you’ll want to ask your doctor if it’s appropriate for you before you begin.
First, practice balancing on a single leg, as described above. Remain in that position until your ankle and foot feel fatigued. For some, this may take only seconds, while for others, it will take over a minute. If you cannot balance on one foot without assistance, feel free to use your other foot to occasionally steady yourself. Of course, you’ll want to take turns doing this with each of your feet.
Once you’re able to balance on each leg, unassisted, for 30 seconds, you can make the exercise more challenging by switching from a flat surface to a pillow or couch cushion. For an even greater challenge, you can try standing on a BOSU balance trainer, which is a piece of equipment available for use at most gyms or for purchase at most sporting goods stores.
By increasing your balance, you’ll decrease the chances of a fall. Instead, you can spend your time and money on the activities and people that you love.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their site or call them at 202-223-8500.
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Photo credits: Top © Lisa F. Young / Fotolia. Bottom BOSU