Prior to retirement, the balance you probably sought was that between work and your personal life. As you age, however, your goal can also start to include not losing your physical balance, which is the most common source of serious falls. The good news is that you can reduce the risk of falling by practicing a few balance exercises for seniors. Only a few minutes a day can help keep you on an even keel.
Before you practice anything, establish a baseline by testing your sense of balance. All you need is a partner with a watch that has a second hand, who can also catch you in case you start to fall. Stand barefoot on a flat, hard surface, then close your eyes, lift your left leg about five inches off the ground (if you are left-handed, lift your right leg instead), bend your knee a bit and ask your partner to start timing. If your foot drops back to the ground, you start to sway or open your eyes, stop the watch. People aged 55 average eight seconds, those aged 65 around five seconds, and people 70 or older about 4 seconds.
Once you know your “balance-related age,” you can start working to improve it by practicing balance techniques and methods. Any activity that keeps you on your feet and moving along will aid in improving your stability. This includes walking, even with a walker or cane. However, weight-bearing exercises that strengthen your quadriceps and hamstrings — the muscles in your thighs that support your legs — are best. The Mayo Clinic recommends several balance exercises for seniors you can do right at home.
The first is to practice standing up and sitting down without using your hands, if possible. Another is the single-limb stance, where you stand behind a chair, gripping it in both hands, and balance on one leg for a few seconds. This helps you get the feel of the center of gravity over your ankles. Try to work up to one minute on each limb, and then, if possible, lift one hand as well. You can also have someone place painter’s tape in a straight line down a hallway, so you can check your alignment as you walk.
Of all the balance exercises for seniors, however, the best is simply to remember what your mother taught you: Stand up straight. Watch your posture to be certain you are maintaining your weight over your ankles, not behind them, which can cause you to tip over. If you are not certain, take a look at your posture in a full-length mirror.
By practicing your balance, you can may prevent the kind of falls that can set you back physically and emotionally. But more important, achieving a better sense of balance will boost your confidence and your long-term ability to remain independent.