One of the most overlooked factors of physical fitness is balance. This is especially important for the senior population, but balance is something every age group should think about. Balance is important in order to remain upright and steady when sitting up, standing, and walking. We utilize balance constantly in our daily routines without even thinking about it.
Completing balance exercises will result in fewer injuries and improved stability with age, and that will keep individuals stronger and independent for a longer time period. Improving balance does not have to take large amounts of time out of your day. The following exercises will reduce your base of support and challenge your stability in various ways.
- Knee raise and extension: From a seated position, raise your knee and then slowly kick, or extend your leg out straight. This exercise works your upper thigh and hip muscles. These are both important muscle groups for stability. This exercise can be done anytime while seated. For example, do this exercise during a commercial break while watching your favorite TV show.
- Walk heel-to-toe: Place one foot directly in front of the other foot while walking. This exercise can be done at home when walking down a hallway or near a table or counter so that you have something to grab onto if necessary. For example, do this exercise while walking from your living room to your bedroom at night.
- Stand on one foot: While standing, lift one leg off of the ground. After holding for 30 seconds, switch feet. This exercise can be done anywhere when you are just standing still. Be sure to keep something stable close in case you need to grab it for extra support. For example, do this exercise at home while standing at the kitchen sink.
- Chair stands: This is a sit-to-stand exercise. Move to the edge of your seat, place your arms across your chest, and then push through your heels to stand up out of the chair. This exercise will help strengthen lower-body muscles that are important for mobility and stability. This exercise will be most beneficial if you focus on using only your legs to get up out of the chair (try not to push yourself up with your arms). For example, do this exercise during a TV commercial break a few times to improve lower-body strength.
- Tandem and semi-tandem stance: Stand with one foot directly in front of the other, or stand with one foot slightly in front of and off to the side of the other foot. Do this exercise for 30 seconds, and then switch the foot you have forward. This exercise can be done anywhere you are standing still. For example, do this exercise while waiting in line at the grocery store. Keep your shopping cart in front of you in case you need some extra support.
Try doing these exercises throughout your day to work on improving your balance and stability. If you need to start out holding onto something while doing these exercises, that is okay. The more you do the exercises, the easier they will become. As the exercises become easier, you can further challenge your balance by closing your eyes. I hope you find these exercises simple, beneficial, and enjoyable!
Many communities offer balance training to their residents simply as a component of a group fitness class on the activities schedule. I’m here to tell you that is not enough! Residents need an opportunity for group classes solely dedicated to balance training, as well as balance assessments, equipment, and workouts in their community fitness centers.
Comprehensive balance training programming is often an early success when NIFS begins staffing a fitness center at retirement communities. We’ve been able to engage many residents in the fitness program who previously wouldn’t buy into other modes of physical activity, but they are chomping at the bit to participate in balance training opportunities that can decrease their risk of falls and improve their confidence. Doing so is sometimes a “gateway activity” to help residents recognize their abilities. After building that initial confidence, they experiment with a NuStep or a chair aerobics class. We’ve all got to start somewhere!
NIFS’ Balance Challenge Program
To promote existing balance training programs at our CCRCs, NIFS will hold its inaugural Balance Challenge in March. The Balance Challenge program encompasses different elements of our regularly offered balance training programs and services as well as a few new opportunities for residents. Participants will track their activity on a scorecard and will be required to participate in group classes, educational lectures, assessments, fitness center workouts, obstacle courses, and much more to complete the Challenge. The program is designed with activity options for residents of varying ability levels so it can be marketed to someone new to the fitness program looking to get into a routine, or for seasoned participants to further hone their skills.
All participants in the Challenge will complete a Fullerton Advanced Balance Scale test as well as a pre- and post-program survey in which they will rate their current balance skills and confidence levels. In future programs, we hope to see that our participants are maintaining or improving their balance abilities as well as their confidence levels through engaging in not only the month-long Challenge, but also throughout the year in regularly scheduled programs. (Consider the marketing advantages for a community with data of this nature to back up the effectiveness of your balance programs!)
Things to Consider When Starting a CCRC Balance Program
Here are a few key considerations when launching a comprehensive balance program for your residents:
- Who is qualified to lead these types of classes and services for your residents?
- How will you track the impact the program is having on your residents’ functional abilities and how will you utilize that information?
- How can you utilize resident volunteers to act as your balance champions to demonstrate exercises, provide testimonials, etc., on the effectiveness of the program? (Residents seeing their peers demonstrate exercises may help them get over any fears of participating.)
- How can you partner with your community therapy department in balance program offerings?
Whether your community already has a variety of balance training opportunities, or you are looking to launch some new initiatives, consider how a comprehensive program can help spark enthusiasm in your residents!
The number-one challenge that the aging population faces is balance because the number-one concern is falling!
In order to maintain balance, you must balance your day to include balance exercises! A wise person once said, “Practicing balance doesn’t make perfect; practicing balance makes permanent!” Therefore, include specific balance exercise daily, incorporate them into your exercise routine, provide a variety of balance exercises, and do different ones daily to challenge your stability.
Start with the three goals of achieving better balance:
Goal 1: Establish a Routine.
What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? You usually head to the bathroom, take a shower, brush your teeth, and so on. It’s a consistent routine. So is practicing balance! Find the time, whether it 's before or after exercising, after breakfast, or before bed. Schedule in a few balance exercises and make it part of your routine.
Goal 2: Think Before You Start.
Remember, all the exercises in the world will not do any good if you don’t follow these simple safety rules:
- Wear proper shoes. Your ankles and feet need good support. No sandals or fancy shoes!
- Utilize your strong muscles. Strengthen the muscles that support the body (especially the lower legs and ankles). So make sure your exercise routine includes strengthening these areas.
- A mirror is helpful. Look at yourself when you attempt to balance, check your posture, and note what your limitations (such as knee replacements or back issues) permit.
- Stand on good flooring. Do your exercises on stable and level ground. If one side is higher or more unsteady than the other, you will be the same.
- Use stable support. Make sure that there is a stable chair or counter available. As you practice, you will need an occasional support when you feel unsteady. The main goal is to prevent falling.
- Avoid fast movements and position changes. Slow down! Learn to turn and react with deliberate patience. Incorrect weight shifting is the number-one cause of falls. So when you go to move or turn, remember to be as cautious as possible. What’s the real hurry? Let your body catch up with your mind’s intent.
Goal 3: Practice Being Unsteady to Become Steadier.
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Practicing exercises that force the body to feel unsteady actually helps the body become steadier. That being said, you should also continue to challenge the body. For example, if you’re capable of supporting yourself by raising both arms out and holding them for 10 seconds, next you can incorporate holding on with one hand and lifting one leg out to challenge yourself. Eventually and over time you can regain better balance.
If you’ve spent time in a gym, you know “that guy,” the one who doesn’t work his lower body and just focuses on upper body. Lower-body strength training is just as important as upper-body. The largest muscles are located in the lower body. Working larger muscles tends to get your heart rate up higher and burns more calories. More important, the muscles in the lower body are used for everyday movements and help with balance and coordination.
Regular lower-body strength training helps to increase bone density and strength. Strengthening the lower-body muscles around the joints also helps to strengthen the joints, decreasing the risk of injury in the hips and knees. The lower body is the powerhouse for most sports and activities, so try this workout for maximum results!
Eventually work your way up to going through this workout twice. (See the video link for specific instructions on form.) All you should need for this workout is a set of dumbbells and a step/bench/chair. I love lower-body workouts, so join me for this one and let me know what you think.
- Side/lateral lunges (12 to 15 reps each side)
- 45 seconds skater lunges
- Squat―alternating knee crunches (1 minute)
- 30 seconds squat hops
- Calf raises―toes straight, in and out (15 reps each direction)
- 30 seconds calf jumps (stay on toes)
- Straight leg deadlifts―form is very important! (15 reps)
- Single-leg squats (15 reps each leg)
- Single-leg squat hops
- Right leg lunges (10 reps), lunge hold (20 seconds), lunge pulses (20 seconds)
- Left leg lunges (10 reps), lunge hold (20 seconds), lunge pulses (20 seconds)
- Squat hold (30 seconds) staying in a squat―hop feet out and in (30 seconds)
- Lunges with back foot elevated on step/bench (12 reps each leg)
You can also refer to the demonstration video for details on which exercises are to be used with weights. Toward the end of the workout, if your legs get too fatigued, just set the weights down and do the lunges/squats with no weight. Don’t forget to stretch at the end of all workouts!
The number-one challenge that the aging population faces is balance because the number-one concern is falling. The question has always been, “What causes these falls and how can we continue to prevent them”? The answer from a recent study is outstanding (no pun intended!).
Study Shows What Causes Senior Falls
An observational study determined how and why falls occur in the aging population by actually videotaping falls in two long-term-care facilities between 2007 and 2010. These video cameras were placed in the common areas such as the dining rooms, hallways, and lounges. When a fall occurred it was reviewed with a focus on the actual cause of imbalance and the activity at the time of falling. The study captured 227 falls from 130 individuals. The result of the study concluded that the number-one cause of falls (41 percent) was incorrect weight shifting: basically, how one moves or transfers from one position to another.
The study identified that the majority of falls occurred during standing and transferring, how we go from the position of standing still to starting to move. Staying balanced doesn’t involve only maintaining it when we are in motion, but the study has proven that how we begin that motion can be much more crucial to staying in balance.
Weight-Shifting Exercises for Senior Fitness and Balance
Therefore, in order to improve balance and prevent falls, it is crucial that a balance program incorporate weight-shifting exercises to help teach seniors about their center of gravity. Weight-shifting exercise can also improve coordination, strengthen the muscles in the lower extremities, and teach slower and more precise movements. Older adults should speak with a qualified fitness professional who understands the functional needs of the population, including balance-training recommendations. Fitness professionals can administer balance-training and weight-shifting exercises through one-on-one personal training sessions, group exercise classes, or simple recommendations of exercises for one to include in his or her normal fitness routine.
Here are some examples of weight-shifting exercises for active older adults:
- Side Sways: While seated in a chair or standing, place the feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Leading with the upper body, lean the body gently to the right while keeping both feet in contact with the floor. Repeat in the other direction. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
- Forward Steps: Standing with the feet together near a chair back or counter top to hold onto, take an exaggerated step forward with the right foot. Then take the necessary amount of steps to recover to a normal standing position. Repeat 8 to 10 times and then perform on the left leg.
If you are interested in reading about the study and the specific findings, follow this link.
Download our QuickRead for more information on the importance of teaching physical balance in your active aging community!
People everywhere are always searching for the best, most modern training device that will produce great results in the least amount of time. It is likely that you’ve tried the latest craze, yet you’re still searching for something more. Ironically, you may already own one of the most inexpensive yet effective training devices: the jump rope.
Getting Fit with a Jump Rope
It sounds old-fashioned, and it is. However, the jump rope is making a comeback in gyms and fitness centers everywhere. What began as a schoolyard game has progressed to recreational use and is now evolving into competitive sports training for all levels. Whether used as a warm-up or training, there is room for jumping rope in every workout. Benefits include upper- and lower-body coordination, muscular endurance, balance, and agility.
Jumping rope tones muscles, improves cardiovascular fitness, and burns calories all at the same time. Jim Zielinski, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Illinois, endorses jump rope in the September 2011 issue of Training and Conditioning magazine. “The activity can achieve a “burn rate” of up to 1,000 calories per hour. That means jumping rope for 10 minutes is roughly equivalent, calorie-wise, to running an eight-minute mile.”
How to Start a Jump-Rope Workout
The best way to begin a jump-rope workout, like any new program, is with correct form. Grasp the handles and start by swinging the rope to your side without jumping. Next, without the rope, practice small jumping movements, barely lifting off the ground. Finally, put the two movements together. When done correctly, jumping rope while staying high on your toes can involve less pounding on knee and ankle joints than jogging.
There is never a better time to start than now. Pick up a jump rope and try this FREE workout.
Complete 5 rounds of the below exercises for a total of 15 minutes.
Basic Jump: 1 minute
Rest: 30 seconds
Alt. High Knees: 1 minute
Rest 30 seconds
Challenge: How long will it take you to complete 500 total jumps?! (Count to 500 and time yourself and record)
This blog was written by Fitness Staff. Meet our blogging fitness specialists at the NIFS website.
Balance: simple right? I regularly work with a senior population that tells me, “My balance is lost” or “I don’t have balance.” They are under the impression that you either have balance or you don’t.
But your body’s ability to maintain your balance is much more complicated than having it or not. Your body, or your brain, processes multiple sensory and motor inputs to help you stay upright.
The Sensory Systems Involved in Balance
Your brain relies on sensory information from three systems in your body:
- Vestibular (inner ear): This is a system of channels in your inner ear that allows your brain to know your body’s position, relative to gravity, while your head is moving.
- Vision: This system works with your vestibular system to keep objects in focus by relaying to the brain the location of external objects in relation to the body.
- Somatosensory (nerves): This system is used by the brain to know the position of your center of gravity in relation to your base of support.
Your brain uses the information from your sensory systems with your motor system, which works to control the actions of your muscles to detect changes in your body position with respect to your base.
Balance Diminishes with Age
Your balance naturally diminishes as you age because your brain’s ability to receive and integrate sensory information is reduced. This is why it is important to start training your balance before you begin to notice any problems.
If the function of one or more of your sensory systems declines (say you lose your vision or develop a neurological condition that would affect your somatosensory system), your brain will have to rely more heavily on the other properly functioning systems for information.
What Can I Do to Work on My Balance?
Regular exercise (cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility training) is great for areas of your balance. But if you're looking to focus more specifically on balance, the easiest way is by adding or making simple changes to your current exercise program. You can do this by changing your base of support to make it smaller. The smaller or narrower your base is, the more difficult it is to maintain your balance.
Try adding in exercise stances such as these:
- A narrow stance: Stand with your feet together, side by side.
- Semi-tandem stance: Stand with your feet together and then take a big step forward with one foot. Your feet should be hip width apart with a step length between them.
- Tandem stance: Stand with your feet together and then place one foot in front of the other so you are standing heel to toe.
Other ways to manipulate your base of support include using a BOSU stability trainer, standing on a foam pad or wobble board, or using an exercise ball. These will provide an unstable surface for your base of support, making it even harder. You can also add exercises to the balance stances listed above to challenge your sensory inputs by turning your head side to side or looking up and down, closing your eyes, or reaching with one or both arms.
Balance isn’t just one thing; your brain is constantly working to process all kinds of information to keep you on your feet. But just like any other type of exercise, with some practice you can certainly do a lot to improve your balance.