|When you see a tightrope walker in a circus you can just imagine the skill and years of training it has taken to be able to traverse a rope barefoot high above the ground. For many of us it is difficult enough to walk a straight line on terra firma. Studies on elderly persons presenting to hospital with fractures (broken bones) demonstrate that poor balance is a common cause of falling. For older people, breaking a bone, requiring surgery and rehabilitation is a traumatic experience, best avoided if possible. So if breaking a bone is a consequence of falling, it would seem sensible to try prevent the fall happening.|
Medical research has clearly proven that improving balance by specific training is easily achieved. In fact two age-matched groups of elderly persons demonstrated clearly how beneficial it is over a period of years. Both groups lived their lives similarly, except one group had intensive balance training for six weeks at the start and were advised to keep up simple exercises long term.
Several important results emerged. First, as the research team expected, balance does disimprove with age. This appears to be due both to aging effects on muscle, as muscle becomes less taut and so less strong and also due to the skill of balance worsening unless it is practised regularly. Better balance abilities were found in the trained group than the group. They experienced significantly less falls in the study period and in turn less broken bones than the no-training group. Less broken bones mean less hospitalisation, a major cost benefit for healthcare providers. Even more important, healthy safe living has positive implications for the older individual who wishes to continue living independently.
The results were strong enough to suggest that simple balance training should form a part of every older person’s general fitness regime.
Before starting training, establish your current balance skill in an exercise called ‘single leg standing’. Standing near a solid piece of furniture, test your balance by standing on one leg, lifting the other foot off the ground, without holding onto anything, if possible. Count how long you can stay on one foot without needing to touch the other to the ground. Rate how steady you feel. Repeat the task on the other leg.
If you can balance without a single wobble on either side for 30 seconds or more, congratulate yourself: you have excellent balance!
However, if you need to touch the support or put your other foot down early, use the same procedure as a training exercise. Start by practising single leg balance two or three times in a row, at least twice a day. Do alternate legs. If one side is noticeably worse, practice more on the worse side. Even after one week a significant difference will be seen, both in feeling less wobbly and in being able to balance for a few seconds longer. This is proof of success. Progress by increasing so you balance for 60 seconds or longer. The next step is to train with your eyes closed. It is astonishingly harder to stay on one foot without using eyes as a balance tool.
Like all training, best results come with regular practice. A maintenance regime is recommended. Schedule balance exercises once a day, perhaps 3-4 days weekly, for the long term especially for the over 70 age group. Start training today and you will be assured of improvement in a few short weeks with a little practice.
Mairead O’Riordan, CEO TherapyXperts