Balance training is an activity program designed to improve your response to falling hazards, says Evie Burnet, director of the Center for the Study of Balance and Aging at William & Mary.
“It’s more complicated than just standing on one leg,” says Debra Rose, director of the Center for Successful Aging at California State University at Fullerton and creator of the FallProof Balance and Mobility Program.
The most effective programs combine activities that directly focus on balance with functional training (movements that resemble daily activities, such as standing) and strength training, according to the US Preventive Services Task Force.
Your fall protection program
Senior centers may offer balance training, and some YMCAs offer a program called Moving for Better Balance. You can also mix and match the various activities below to build your own routine.
Walking in a zigzag pattern, changing direction frequently, or speeding up and slowing down during a walk can improve balance when combined with regular forward walking, Rose says.
Tai chi reduced the rate of falls by 23 percent, according to an Australian review of 116 studies published in 2020. Rose said the slow, controlled movements required a shift in body weight, an important part of balance.
Dancing, solo (like Zumba) or with a partner, requires both motor and sensory skills. A German study found that weekly dancing improves balance more than a typical cardio workout.
Strength training that includes squats, lunges or standing exercises can help challenge the muscles in your legs, back and stomach that are important for stability.
Yoga can improve balance in people 60 and older, according to a review of six studies in the journal Age and Aging. It helps when you are still and moving.
Movements you can do anywhere
Aim to do each balance exercise two or three times a day.
Around the clock: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Imagine a clock face on the floor. Shifting from the hips, move the weight forward to the 12 o’clock position and back to center. Do the same with positions 3, 6 and 9. Progress to add 1, 5, 7 and 11.
Walking: Practice walking in an imaginary line, placing one foot in front of the other but not touching. Keep your eyes forward, looking at the point ahead, not down on the floor. Walk along the wall and place a finger or two if you feel unsteady.
up: Sit on the edge of a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Without using your hands, stand up a little like in an elevator going up to the first floor, then sit down. Repeat – go up to the second floor – then go up a little higher each time until you’re standing up.
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