These at-home checks reveal clues about your stability today.
How’s your balance? As we age, maintaining strength and flexibility to stay steady and stable on our feet allows us to move through the world with ease and confidence.
“Keep in mind that many factors affect your balance from day to day,” Andi says.
Chronic conditions, medications, how well you slept last night, your level of hydration, and even what you had for breakfast — all play a role in how steady (or not) you feel on your feet every day, she explains.
What’s more, with each passing year, we tend to lose our stability for a variety of age-related developments such as muscle loss, vision changes, inner ear changes, and even what we do in our day to day lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“When we’re younger, there’s more play, there’s more recreation, there are more ways that we are training our balance without even realizing that we’re training it,” Andi say.
Balance training as we age is more important than ever to keep us healthy and independent. Falls are the leading cause of death from injury for adults age 65 and older, according to the CDC. Paradoxically, fear of taking a tumble can keep us from activities that help prevent falls in the first place.
The good news is, if you “work it” you won’t “lose it,” says Andi. Indeed a study published in BMJ revealed that balance training for older adults reduced the risk of injurious falls by 43 percent and the risk of falls resulting in fractures by 61 percent.
The things we’ll do in the 7-Day Better Balance Challenge — purposeful strength training, improving flexibility, enhancing posture, and boosting endurance — all play a role in helping you stay steady and sure-footed whether you’re walking around your house or on a trail in the park.
Balance training is part of every SilverSneakers group fitness class! Check your eligibility and find participating fitness locations near you here.
2 Quick DIY Balance Self-Assessments
For today’s activity, you’ll need two sturdy chairs, supportive sneakers, and a stable surface. If you’re new to exercise or feel a bit unsteady, Andi recommends having a friend or family member nearby for support, if needed.
These tests help you discover areas you can work on to improve your balance, says Andi. Write down your results so you can repeat this assessment at the end of the challenge for comparison.
As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than your regular SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.
Drill #1: Tightrope Balance with Head Turns
This drill provides insight into three important components of balance:
- Proprioception or physical senses helping to manage our center of gravity
- Vestibular – how the inner ear performs relative to balance
- Stand to the side of a sturdy chair, holding onto the back
- Step forward with your right foot, keeping your weight balanced between both feet
- Let go of the chair for a count of 5
- Turn your head right for a count of 5; turn head left for a count of 5
- Switch your feet and repeat on the other side
Progression: Bring your right foot directly in front of your left foot and repeat the head turns. Switch sides and repeat.
The stance variations engage sense receptors in your feet and ankles and move up the body sensing changes in your center of gravity, say Andi. Th head turns will provide more information to how your eyes and inner ear affect your balance.
Some things to consider after this drill:
- Did you notice more wobbles when you let go of the chair?
- How about when you turned your head?
- Was there a difference in your ability to find and maintain balance between the wider and narrower stances?
Drill #2: Figure-8 Obstacle Course
This drill integrates many balance systems and skills such as our walking gait, using visual targets, and maintaining postural control.
- Set up two sturdy chairs in a row with a wide space between and around the chairs
- Begin seated forward in the back chair
- Stand up and walk around the right of the front chair, making a figure-8 pattern around the two chairs and return to a seated position
- Repeat the drill walking around the left of the chair
Progression: Time yourself completing one figure-8.
Some things to consider after this drill:
- Did one way of turning feel different than the other?
- Did you feel any dizziness?
- Were you able to look ahead at the obstacle course or were you primarily looking down at your feet?
What the 2 Balance Self-Assessments Reveal
The tightrope balance measures your ability to balance in a narrower stance, which is more challenging than balancing in the wider, hips shoulder-width apart stance we engage in day-to-day life. (A flower vase with a wider base is less likely to topple over compared to a tall and narrow single-stem vase.)
The tightrope stance engages muscles on the inside and outside of your calves, ankles, and feet. For many folks over 65, it may be challenging to balance in this position without holding on to a chair.
Turning your head from one side to another involves of the workings of the fluid, hair cells, and neurons in our inner ear canals, or our vestibular function. If you’ve ever experienced vertigo or a dizzy spell, you know the feeling, which becomes more common with age, notes the National Institute on Aging.
Indeed, research in Frontiers in Neurology shows 30 percent of folks over age 60 experience dizziness or vertigo. While no fitness activity can repair inner-ear function, balance training can make living with related problems easier.
The figure-8 obstacle course drill is a variation on the “get up and go” test, a test commonly used to assess fitness in older adults, notes Andi. It measures agility and dynamic balance, or the ability to stay stable and respond quickly while on the go.
It measures how long it takes you to get up from a seated position, walk a short distance, turn, and return to a seated position. A study of women between the ages of 65 and 85 who lived indepedently, published in Age and Aging, revealed that 92 percent were able to complete the “get up and go” test in under 12 seconds (the majority completed it in 6 to 11.2 seconds), compared to their peers who lived in an assisted-living facility.
Bonus Challenge: Try a SilverSneakers Circuit Class!
This beginner-friendly workout includes fall-prevention drills and exercises to improve your strength and endurance. It’s offered both in-person at participating fitness locations and online with SilverSneakers LIVE.
Take Your Favorite SilverSneakers Classes Online!
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