I’m a woman in my seventies and have noticed that my balance is sometimes bad. I’m afraid that I’ll have a fall. Is there anything I can do to improve my balance?
Yes, plenty. But for peace of mind you should try to work out why your balance has worsened, and eliminate possible underlying medical causes (especially if you are getting dizzy turns). Something as simple as an ear infection could be responsible. If you are taking several medications a day, their combined effect may be upsetting you. Have you recently started some new pills? And are you looking after your eyesight properly? Pay the GP and the optician an early visit.
The good news is that poor balance is not an inevitable consequence of getting older. While our nervous systems (and hence our speed of reaction) do slow down, we can sharpen them up by challenging brain and body with mental and physical activity. Good balance not only needs mental alertness, though, but also strength, good posture and self-confidence. It’s scary but true that if you believe you are going to fall over and hurt yourself, it is more likely to happen – so you need to take some action now!
What kinds of exercises will help? By all means, practise standing on one leg at a time (use a chair back or window ledge to give you some touch support until you gain confidence). Practise standing for up to a minute on each leg.
You also need to practise balance and posture control while you are on the move. Many of us grow into sloppy walking habits, perhaps dragging our feet along, stooping forwards with head down and shoulders hunched, or taking tiny shuffling steps. By contrast, good walking technique means walking tall, and taking long, confident strides, using a “heel-toe” action.
Practise also, repeatedly stepping up one stair, turning and stepping down again, until you can do this efficiently – even without holding on. Practise standing up several times a day from a kitchen chair and sitting SLOWLy back down again without using your arms: this helps build your leg strength. Rising up on your toes and back again 20 times is another great daily leg exercise.
Why not join a community class? Your health centre or local council can point you to seniors fitness classes. Before you take part, ask the instructor if the class covers posture, strength and dynamic balance. And while you’re at it, check with the centre or the gym that the instructor is properly qualified to teach older people.
Finally, I strongly recommend you try Tai Chi. This gorgeously slow, fluid movement discipline has been proven to benefit older people’s balance, and there are many classes suitable for seniors. Give it six weeks – and you may find not only that you’ve improved your balance but have acquired a whole new passion in life!