Do you notice your balance isn’t what it used to be? Perhaps you have had a stumble and just barely caught yourself. Or maybe you didn’t! The good news is that balance is a skill, and with intentional practice your balance can improve. Whether a little unsteadiness is creeping in or you use a cane or walker, training your balance can reduce injurious falls and make day-to-day tasks easier.
The saying “use it or lose it” definitely holds true when it comes to balance. Research shows that it takes around 50 hours of balance training to reduce your fall risk. Commiting to 2 hours a week for 6 months may sound daunting, but there are many activities that you can participate in. Check with your physician or physical therapist before starting a new exercise routine if you have health concerns or if you are unsure how to perform the exercises safely.
Some activities that have been proven to decrease fall risk include:
Strengthening exercises - Everyone has equipment for strengthening exercises - your own body weight! There are many simple exercises that you can incorporate into your day to help you get stronger. I like to encourage heel raises while you brush your teeth, sneaking in several chair raises each time you get up, or squats at the sink while you are waiting for your coffee.
Balance training - The best way to improve a skill is to specifically practice that skill! Many people can benefit from practicing a narrow stance with feet staggered. You should be able to hold your balance for about 10 seconds before using support. If it is too easy, progress toward a heel-toe pattern. When you find your “just-right” challenge, kick it up by turning your head, waving your arms, or closing your eyes.
Tai chi - The intentionality of movements, with slow and purposeful weight shifting, makes tai chi an ideal exercise for training balance. This practice has many benefits, including strengthening, arthritis pain reduction, and mindfulness.
Boxing - Boxing incorporates everything - balance, agility, power, cardio, thinking - and fun! People of any age or physical condition can participate, and there are studies showing benefits for people with Parkinson’s.
If you have recently fallen, have a fear of falling, or simply feel unsteady, you don’t need to go it alone. A physical therapist can determine which skills need fine tuning and provide appropriate exercises specifically for you.
Tiffany Salido is a doctor of physical therapy and owner of The Movement Joint, a fitness studio offering small group classes. Exercises are safe and individualized for people with balance problems, joint and muscle pain, weakness, and mobility difficulties, including Parkinson’s. Find out more at themovementjoint.com.