As we’ve mentioned in some of our other blog posts, feeling unsteady or off balance is not a normal part of aging. Balance is like a muscle, you can build it up and make it stronger! Below are five exercises to improve your balance and help rebuild your confidence.
Backwards Wall Leans
Strengthening the pre-tibial muscles can significantly help your balance and prevent you from falling backwards. Stand with your back to a solid wall, with your heels positioned about 4-6 inches from the wall. Cross your arms and slowly lean back until just your shoulder blades touch the wall and your toes come up off the floor. Next, try to use your ankle and core muscles to pull yourself back to an upright standing position. Try not to push yourself off the wall with your shoulders or hands. If this is too hard, move a little closer to the wall. If it’s too easy, move a little further away!
Strong ankles are a key part of maintaining good balance. To strengthen your calf muscles, stand near a counter or sturdy table. Lift your heels off the ground and slowly lower them back down over a count of 4. Use the counter or table for balance if you need to, but for an extra challenge, try hovering your hands above the surface and not holding on. Perform 10-15 repetitions.
Flexible ankles are an important part of having the range of motion necessary to respond to a balance challenge. If your ankles feel stiff, it might be related to tight calves. In order to stretch your calves, position yourself facing a solid wall or sturdy chair, with one foot in front and one foot back. Your front foot should be about 12 inches away from the wall/chair, and your back foot should be as far back as you can place it while keeping your knee straight and your back heel on the ground. Be sure to keep your toes facing straight forward. Performing without shoes on will give you a greater stretch. You can lean your hands on the wall/chair and lean forward at your hips. You should feel a stretch in your back leg. Hold this position for 30-60 seconds and then switch to the other side.
Sit to Stands With Slow Lower
If getting up from a chair without using your hands is challenging, this is the exercise for you. Find a chair with a firm(ish) seat and backrest- something like a dining chair is perfect. Try to avoid a very soft chair like an armchair. If your dining chairs are pub height, you might need to use something like a folding chair instead. Start by trying to stand up from the chair. If it is challenging to get up without using your hands, add a cushion (or two) to the surface of the chair to raise the surface and make it easier to stand up. Once you are standing, try to sit back down as slowly as possible – try to extend the movement over a count of 4. Repeat this 10 times. As it starts to become easier, you can decrease the number of cushions underneath you to make it more challenging.
Walking With Head Turns
One activity that challenges people with impaired balance is walking while turning their head. For this activity you will need to find a straight area in your home that is 10-15 feet long with no obstacles in your path. A hallway or the area along a kitchen island are both great options for this! Walk at a normal speed and turn your head from side to side as you go – not quickly, but changing directions every 2-3 steps. As your head turns and your visual field moves from one side to the other, you may find it difficult to keep going in a straight line. If this is the case, try slowing down a bit to see if you are more stable. To make the activity more challenging, try walking faster.
Hopefully these exercises help you regain some confidence in your balance, or help prevent you from feeling unsteady in the first place.
If you are interested in learning about your balance and what specific exercises that are best for your specific balance deficits, Hands On Physical Therapy offers a balance screening clinic: click here to receive more information!
Stay tuned for more information to come regarding balance and how our Physical Therapist at Hands On Physical Therapy can help.