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Staying Balanced: Why Balance Matters to Seniors

The definition of BALANCE, whether as a noun or a verb is, "an even distribution of weight enabling a person or object to remain upright and steady so that it does not fall". As we age, maintaining physical balance becomes more challenging, leaving seniors at risk for dangerous falls.

Older persons who fall are at a higher risk of injury when they fall. Being proactive about staying upright is a critical component to decreasing falls.

Why Our Balance Falters

As we age, feeling unsteady on our feet becomes more common. There are a variety of medical conditions that contribute to this, including arthritis, loss of muscle mass and the balance receptors in our ears becoming less fluid over time. This makes it more difficult to determine where our bodies are in space and thus find that center balance.

Vision and hearing loss or changes also affect how we move, which can be a fall risk. Medications can cause a person to feel dizzy or weak. Other age-related conditions like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease can impact a person's overall cognition and make falls more likely.

Ways to Improve Balance

There are many ways to help a senior maintain or improve their balance.

Walk! Yes, it can be as simple as walking to improve your leg strength and overall stamina. You can even walk heel-to-toe for several feet to work on your balance and ability to control your movements. You should set a goal to walk for a certain number of minutes a day (start with 10!) and build your endurance from there, working up to walking longer distances. This continued movement of walking each day will also provide health benefits to your heart and mind!

Standing Balance Exercises should be done with a wall or chair nearby for support. While holding on, lift one foot off the floor and hold it there for a few seconds. Gradually increase the height of your leg and the length of time you hold it up. Alternate legs and repeat on each side 5-10 times.

Stand Up Straight! Your posture also plays a large role in your balance. Stand up straight with your shoulders relaxed and down (think about sliding them into your back pockets). Imagine opening your collarbones and lifting your heart up. Hold your head up and breathe deeply, filling up your lungs with air and then blowing out all the air.

Pilates exercises focus on increasing core strength and stability, which in turn improves balance. Many Pilates moves are performed on the floor, in a supine position which allows seniors to feel supported while they work. This exercise regimen also tones muscles and improves flexibility, which also help people of all ages maintain better balance.

Yoga can be done with a wide berth of props, including done seated in a chair for support. Simple moves like lifting and lowering one leg at a time while seated will strengthen a person's core and in turn their balance.

Tai Chi is known to improve balance because it targets leg strength and flexibility as well as improving range of motion. Tai Chi is lauded for its benefits to emotional stability, but also to physical balance as well.

Water Aerobics is another fantastic way for seniors to experience mobility without fear of falling. When we are in water, our bodies are out of our normal, stable position. Learning how to maintain posture and to move with control while in the water can translate to improved balance when out of the water.

Find a Class Near You!

Inquire at your local community center, senior center, YMCA or neighborhood fitness center to see if they offer any classes like Pilates, yoga, Tai Chi or water aerobics. Many will offer senior-focused classes designed specifically for the older population.

Evergreen Senior Living

Evergreen Senior Living communities throughout Illinois offer a variety of Life Enrichment programs and events that are designed to keep seniors active and thriving. Ask at your local community (link here!) what is available in your area. 

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