Balance is the ability to maintain the body’s position over its base of support (i.e. one’s feet) when standing still or moving. When a person begins training to improve balance, it is important to address strength deficits in all the muscles required to remain upright and still, and then move on to muscles that provide dynamic movement (i.e. actions, such as walking and running). The muscles involved in maintaining upright posture and resisting the forces of gravity are the shins, calves, buttocks, thighs, lower back, and stomach muscles.
- Calf raise: try lifting on to your toes while your heels come off the floor. This is a great way to train the calves
- Toe taps work the shins. You can also try walking on your toes, and then walking on your heels for 30 seconds each, to train both balance and the muscles around the ankle joint
- Standing leg lifts work the outer thigh muscles. Hold on to a sturdy chair or a wall, and lift your leg out to the side
A crucial component in balancing well also includes strengthening the muscles in the mid-section. These are often referred to as the “core” and new research points to the importance of these muscles in controlling “postural sway”, especially in older adults. A systematic review of research for falls prevention published in the journal Sports Medicine (Sports Med. 2013 Jul;43(7):627-41) suggests that strengthening the trunk muscles is more crucial than other areas for improving balance, the ability to perform daily tasks, and preventing falls in seniors.
- Wall plank: To work your core muscles, position yourself against a wall with your elbows bent and forearms in contact with the wall. Step back from the wall so that you are balancing on your forearms. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute. Keep your trunk engaged, and do not arch your lower back.
- Floor plank: A more challenging plank is performed on the floor. Position yourself on your feet (or knees) and forearms. Make your body flat as a plank from head to feet. Keep your trunk engaged (tight) and do not let your lower back arch.
Research suggests that both core strength training and Pilates can be used either as an alternative or an addition to balance and resistance training programs for falls prevention.
Kate Maliha, MA (HKin) has a Master’s degree in Human Kinetics and has conducted aging research at the University of British Columbia. She is the Director of Love Your Age Fitness Inc.(http://www.LoveYourAge.ca), a fitness company specializing in the exercise needs of seniors.
Twitter: http://twitter.com/seniorbalance (@seniorbalance)