Feet On The Ground – Balance Training

Staying on your feet and keeping balance is crucial for staying healthy throughout your life.

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Do you know what the leading cause of death is for those over 55? It’s not heart disease, cancer, or spouses. It’s actually complications due to falls! Staying on your feet and keeping balance is crucial for staying healthy throughout your life, even more so as you age. That’s why today I am going to go over some strategies to keep your feet on the ground and your butt out of the hospital!
 
The Major Issues
There are several key factors to think about when considering a balance and stability training program. Muscle weakness, especially in the lower body, and problems in the feet such as foot pain, loss of sensation, or even improper footwear (slippers without traction, high heeled shoes, etc.) are at the top of the list (1). Additionally, medications and their side affects, declines in vision, and environmental factors like clutter or unsecured throw rugs can play a roll in falls. Today, we are going to focus on the former topics. Of primary interest, the strength of the lower body is paramount. Focusing on strengthening the lower body not only builds up the ability to resist gravity, but it also enhances our ability to know where our body’s at in space (proprioception).
 
The Exercises
No matter what your age or skill level is, there are exercises you should be doing to enhance your natural abilities. Today, I will be breaking things down into a beginner and advanced category.
Beginner
These exercise can be done by just about anyone. You can choose to do them standing, with assistance, or even seated if needed.
Hip extensions (back leg raise) – This exercise builds strength in the hamstring and hip. Perform this by slowly lifting one leg straight back without bending your knee or pointing your toes. Try not to lean forward. The leg you are standing on should be slightly bent.
Side Leg Raise – This glute exercise is a standby for seniors and professional athletes alike. Perform by slowly lifting one leg out to the side. Keep your back straight and your toes facing forward. The leg you are standing on should be slightly bent.
Knee Curl – This hamstring exercise is a classic. Perform by slowly bringing your heel up toward your buttocks as far as possible. Bend only from your knee, and keep your hips still. The leg you are standing on should be slightly bent.
Calf Raise – This calf exercise can be done just about anywhere and any time. Perform by slowly standing on tiptoes, as high as possible.
 
Advanced
Plank for core stabilization
Bird dog (Quadruped arm raise) for core, hip, and rotator cuff strength
Floor bridges for glute strength
Floor bridges with march for hip strength and balance
Medicine ball slams for hamstring and abdominal strength

Finally, working on activities that include some form of agility should be done. Dancing, playing with pets, or even simply doing yard work are great ways to build strength. 

Balance Training
Balance specific training is different from exercising to build strength. Like any other skill acquisition, it takes patience. However, we know that the best outcomes are when balance training is used in combination with strengthening exercises (2). You can enhance your balance by using a progression of challenges to enhance the difficulty of your exercises. Try the following progression of challenges:
Start by holding on to a sturdy chair with both hands for support.
When you are able, try holding on to the chair with only one hand.
With time, hold on with only one finger, then with no hands at all.
If you are really steady on your feet, try doing the balance exercises with your eyes closed.
Finally, when you have mastered all the previous steps, you can try standing on unstable surfaces like foam pads, BOSU ball, or even pillows
You can also work on other exercises specifically for balance. For instance, you can try simply standing on one footwalking heel to toe, and walking in a straight line. In other words, perform a sobriety test. In the end, anything you can do to challenge yourself while on your feet will help (3). The moral of the story is if you never stop moving, you won’t end up on the ground.
References
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Important facts about falls. Accessed online September 20, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html
2. Penzer, F., Duchateau, J., & Baudry, S. (2015). Effects of short-term training combining strength and balance exercises on maximal strength and upright standing steadiness in elderly adults. Experimental Gerontology, 61, 38-46. doi:10.1016/j.exger.2014.11.013
3. Baudry, S., (2016). Aging Changes the Contribution of Spinal and Corticospinal Pathways to Control Balance. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, Vol. 44 – Issue 3: p 104–109

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