Q: I am looking for ways to help my mother improve her balance. She is able to do some exercises now, but her legs get tired easily. Any ideas would be welcomed.
A: Along with regular resistance training and cardiovascular exercise, it is important for everyone to work on maintaining or improving their balance and stability. As we age, strength and balance normally decrease, which increases the risk of falls. Each year falls happen to one in every three Americans 65 and older, and falls are the leading cause of injury for this group.
Move for Balance is one of the best programs I’ve seen for teaching elders and those who care for them how to prevent injuries from falls. Move for Balance activities facilitate eye-brain-body connections through specific movements which in turn, promote communication among nerve cells and functional centers in the sensory motor system.
At first, the Move for Balance movements may be slow and difficult for elders. Their nervous systems may feel a sense of chaos while they are learning. However, after they have practiced and repeated the movements, new neural pathways are laid down. The now-improved brain puts those movements on automatic pilot.
You can learn more about the Move for Balance Program at www.movewithbalance.org
Single leg stand: Standing, hold onto the back of a chair with one or both two hands (beginner), with your fingertips (intermediate) or without holding on (advanced). Bend the knee and lift one leg slightly off the floor while trying to maintain your balance. Count the number of seconds you are able to hold this position. Repeat five times per leg.
Intermediate single leg stand: Perform the exercise without holding onto a chair, and move the leg to the front, then to the side, and to the back.
Advanced: Perform the exercise with eyes closed. This can be very difficult, and so for safety, have someone with you, or stand close to a wall or other sturdy surface in the event you become unsteady.
Heel-to-toe walk: Start by placing the heel of one foot just in front of the toes of the opposite foot each time you take a step. With every step, heel and toes should touch or nearly touch. Try to look straight ahead as you are performing the exercise. Intermediate: Looking straight ahead, walk heel to toe forward 10 steps and then backward 10 steps. Advanced: Attempt to walk heel to toe with eyes closed.
It’s a good idea to keep a log of various movements and exercises to help you monitor progress, such as how long you are able to stand on each leg. Record your scores at least once weekly for a month.