By Lori Peppi Michiel
Maintaining balance is the result of a complex interaction of many systems in the human body. With aging, changes occur that reduce how efficient these systems work. Many identifying risk factors for falling can be, but not limited to, balance/gait problems, prior falls, vision, limited ability to perform Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s), depression/dementia and medications. But, intervention programs work! Evidence shows 20 percent to 50 percent lower fall rates with a systematic program of evaluation, exercise and environment.
Balance is so complex; an exercise program can reduce the risk of falls. Exercise performed at a moderate intensity or progress from low to moderate intensity two to three times a week is recommended
Muscle groups that can affect function:
- Tight hip flexors (occur when sitting too long) can be stretched to help alleviate low back pain.
- Tight hamstring muscles can also lead to low back pain, so strengthening the quadriceps and hamstrings will help.
- Tight calf muscles can cause knees to internally rotate; stretching will improve balance.
Muscle imbalance occurs when muscles on one side of the joint are strong and tight, and the opposing muscles on the other side are weak. Muscle imbalances can be corrected with strength training. Stretch short, tight muscles, strengthen the weak muscles and continue to train both muscles equally. Other muscles affected include weak abdominals, gluteus medius and maximus, tight pectoralis muscles, tight lumbar spine, etc.
Physical action and thought assists in balance:
- Take a bigger stride when walking.
- If using a walker, try placing the walker a little further out, then step. Using this method helps because you are staying on one foot longer each time you trade feet to walk.
- Try standing about three feet from a wall and slowly lean toward the wall; before you hit the wall, bring your hands out in front to catch yourself. (Pushing back from this position helps with “power.”)
- When getting up from a reclining position, count to five before standing to avoid feeling light-headed and dizzy; take your time.
Keep in mind these are only a few exercises or considerations. Most exercises require supervision to avoid injury, especially if doing them for the first time. Consult your physician if necessary for medical clearance when starting on an exercise regimen.