Loss of balance is an all-too-common symptom in medical conditions associated with aging. The brain, muscles, bones, nerves and inner ear all work together to maintain the body’s balance. Because vestibular dysfunction makes it difficult for a person to maintain their balance, they are highly susceptible to falling, which makes it extremely important for them to remain active.
Those who are physically able should be encouraged to engage in sports and exercises that will strengthen their core and leg muscles and improve their balance. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 300,000 people aged 65 and older are hospitalized for hip fractures, often due to falling, in the United States every year. Don’t let your patients add to this statistic. Talk to them about staying active and staying on their feet.
Strengthening balance in slow motion
One type of exercise that is specifically designed to aid in strengthening a person’s balance is Tai Chi. You can research and print out some nearby locations that offer classes. Many active adult communities and senior centers bring in a Tai Chi instructor who helps residents and attendees alleviate their fear of falling by strengthening muscles and training their bodies to maintain balance in a variety of positions.
Other, simpler exercises can be done at home by just holding on to a chair or someone’s hand (if needed). These include:
- Knee bends
- Balancing on one leg
- Tandem standing (one foot directly in front of the other)
- Front and side kicks
Remind your patients that any everyday movement they do, including walking, requires some level of balance. Strengthening their core is important for maintaining a healthy posture. Sitting and/or stretching on an exercise ball is great for tightening the core. So are sit-ups, leg raises, bicycles, and planks if your patients have the strength and flexibility to do them properly.
Dancing is also a good (and more entertaining) way to strengthen core and leg muscles. Patients can go out for a night on the town, or stay home and dance to their favorite music with their favorite partner. It’s wonderful exercise, and much more stimulating than sitting on a big, inflated ball.
Sports are good, healthy fun
Participating in sports can greatly improve one’s balance. Bob Greene, author of 20 Years Younger, recommends building muscles that keep a person sure-footed and steady. Besides Pilates and yoga, he suggests taking up sports that build balance, such as:
- Wall climbing
- Horseback riding
- Ice skating
- Inline skating
- Bike riding
- Paddle boarding
- Racquet sports (tennis, pickleball, etc.)
In short, you can stress to your patients that the more active they are, the safer they will be. Their balance will improve, their bodies will be stronger, their energy will increase, and above all, their quality of life will be better.