Improving Your Balance – Part One

Founders of modern day fitness –– Richard Simmons, Jack and Elaine LaLanne, Jane Fonda and Denise Austin, to name a few –– would all tell you the same thing:

You’ve got to keep moving to keep moving! Read on to learn the many benefits of improving your balance.


Move A Little, Gain A Lot

Recent findings from the CDC and the National Exercise Guidelines prove that regular physical activity can deliver a lifetime of benefits:

  • Brain health
  • Weight management
  • Stronger bones and muscles
  • Less pain from arthritis
  • Reducing the risk of diseases from heart failure to cancer

One of the biggest benefits? Gaining better balance and reducing your risk to the number one cause of death for seniors ––– falls.


36 Million Reasons to Improve Your Balance

Look at these new findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Of the 36 million falls a year, 32,000 people die.
  • One out of five falls causes head injury, broken bones, and other serious injuries.
  • Every year, 300,000 seniors are hospitalized for hip fractures.
  • Falls are the second leading cause of traumatic brain injury.
  • Falls translate into $50 million a year in medical costs, with three-quarters of that paid by Medicare and Medicaid.


Marquis’ Success In Reducing Falls

“It’s a myth that falling is a natural part of aging,” says Vicki Nordby, RN, BSN and a 14-year nurse consultant with Marquis Companies.

“As we age there are things that can increase our risk of falls, like certain medications, neuropathy, low blood sugar, balance, and vision. But a lot of falls are due to poor balance which we can easily work on.”

“At Marquis we’ve reduced falls by playing investigator, using the latest tools for assessing and determining why someone is falling then making adjustments.”

So, let’s get started with the first of 4 easy and fun exercises recommended by the CDC, the Physical Activity Guidelines for America and from our own Sarah Shearer-Smith, PT, DPT, GCS, CEEAA, RAC-CTA. Sarah is Consonus Healthcare’s long-time Northwest Director of Clinical Services and one of a small number of clinicians in the US who is recognized as a trained geriatric specialist in physical therapy.

(An important disclaimer: Consult with your doctor before beginning or changing any activity program.  Physical/occupational therapists can also be invaluable supports and experts: helping to identify which condition- or disease-specific guideline might be safest for you, what are the safest and most comfortable positions and modifications for exercises, if there are best times for exercise due to certain medications, and what are the recommended types/intensities/frequencies/and durations for each exercise.)



Tip #1 Warm Up/Cool Down

Want to avoid injuries? Warm-ups and cool-downs, with lower-intensity activities, are essential for the best circulation, breathing, and/or muscle demand to build up gradually. They also allow you to safely slow down after your workout.

The CDC and National Exercise guidelines for lower intensity and speed exercises include walking in water before water aerobics, walking slower before walking faster, walking before jogging, using lower weights or multi-joint movement exercises like standing on one foot and doing bicep curls. Ballroom dancing is another multi-joint movement exercise –– combining balance and aerobics.


Tip #2 Strengthen Your Sensory Abilities

Think of all the daily situations you’re in where the risk of falling is heightened: getting in and out of a vehicle or chair, navigating a narrow path, stepping over a threshold, walking to the bathroom in the dark, going up and down stairs and moving side to side. These exercises will help you mitigate those risky situations.


Your Footing

How long can you balance on one foot? If you’re in your 50’s, you should be able to stand on one leg for around 40 seconds; 20 seconds if you’re in your 60’s; and 10 seconds if you’re 70 and older. Why is that important?

A recent study suggests the inability to balance for 10 seconds on one leg is linked to an increased risk of death within ten years. So here’s how to get to your 10 seconds –– and beyond!  Complete these exercises standing at a counter or table with eyes open.  But place a chair behind you for added security.

  • Feet Together and Tandem Stance: Place your feet together. Hold for 30 seconds. Move one foot in front of the other, heel-to-toe. Hold for 30 seconds. Exchange feet and repeat for 30 more seconds.
  • Weight-Shifting: Next, return your feet to shoulder distance apart. Keeping your feet solidly on the ground, slowly move your weight to your heels, then toes, like shifting your weight from 6 o’clock to 12 o’clock (don’t rock). Repeat 10 times. Switch to slowly shifting your weight from right to left, or 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock.  Repeat another 10 times.
  • Reaching: Now, keep your feet solidly on the ground, shoulder-width apart, try to lift one hand off the counter or table and reach forward 5 times, then out to the side 5 times. Switch arms and repeat; forward 5 times, out to the side 5 times.
  • One-Leg Stance: Finish up by trying to stand on one leg. Keep your hands on the counter or table and that chair behind you!) The goal is greater than 8-10 seconds. This is an important exercise because when you walk, you’re actually standing, briefly, on one leg.


One Last Benefit…

In our next blog we’ll get your heart racing with our last two tips to improve your balance –– aerobic activity and strength shaping.

Until then take it from Richard, Jack, Elaine, Jane and Denise –– focus on improving your balance and keep moving to keep moving!