Written by Nicky Deenik BPhysT (TUKS)
Falling is common in the elderly population. A person aged 65 years and older has a 30 to 40% chance of falling each year. A study performed by Carter et al (2018) found that if participants took longer than 4.5 seconds to complete the 3 Metres Walking Backwards Test (as illustrated below) – they were at high risk of falling at least once a year.
As we get older our balance, strength, flexibility and agility diminish and our chances of falling increase. The common saying is “if you don’t use it, you lose it” but studies have shown that, through exercise, we can gain a bit of it back even if we have not been using our muscles as much as we used to.
Exercises are a valuable tool for gaining muscle strength and co-ordination which, in turn, helps our balance and reduces our risk of falling. But where do we start? And how much is needed per day or week?
There are many factors that need to be considered to ensure that activities and exercises are performed safely. These include heart conditions, previous injuries or surgeries, medications, fitness level etc. Having your physiotherapist prescribe exercises is a great way to get a plan tailored to your needs and capabilities (WHO,2010). A recommendation from a combination of research showed the best results are 40-60 minutes of exercise, 2-3 times a week. This may include water aerobics, leg and arm exercises, weighted exercises, stretches and balance exercises according to AOA (American Osteopathic Association) and you must enjoy them – according to AOA “if it is not fun – it will not get done” (American O.A, 2021).
Setting goals with the physiotherapist can make the exercises more specific to what you would like to achieve (Hsieh TJ et al, 2019). Whether it is a weekly game of tennis or being able to walk with your tea from the kitchen to the living room safely. These goals will really help to keep you motivated and on track. In the meantime, try out these 5 balance exercises below at home once a day.
5 Balance Exercises to keep you on your feet:
- Star exercises: stabilize on one leg while moving the other leg outside of your base of support. Start close and then challenge yourself by moving your leg further and further away from you.
- Sit-stand: Focusing on the legs – keep both feet firmly planted on the floor and slowly lower down to the chair. Stand back up without touching the chair. The higher the chair the easier. Show progression with a lower chair.
- Monster Walks: This exercise works the outside of the hip for increased activation for stability and alignment of the leg when we walk. Make sure the TheraBand is under tension throughout the exercise.
- Step Downs: If you are unsteady on your feet make sure there is a railing for you to hold onto. Make sure to do both sides.
- Single leg standing: This is an exercise that can be made harder by standing on an uneven surface or performing a task such as brushing your teeth, standing in the queue etc.
*** Please note: if you are performing these exercises to please do with caution and with a stable surface that you can lean on if you feel off-balance.
In conclusion, if you know of anyone, have a loved one or you yourself are struggling to stay on your feet then possibly try those exercises or increase your strength and mobility and notice the difference it can make.
The exercises are curtesy of Groovi-Movements and illustration done by Nicola Deenik the Physiotherapist.
Association, A. O. (2021). ‘EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS’: TIPS ON AGING WELL. Retrieved from Doctors of Ostepathic Medicine: https://doctorsthatdo.osteopathic.org/every-little-bit-helps-tips-on-aging-well
Hsieh TJ, Su SC, Chen CW, Kang YW, Hu MH, Hsu LL, Wu SY, Chen L, Chang HY, Chuang SY, Pan WH. Individualized home-based exercise and nutrition interventions improve frailty in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2019 Dec 1;16(1):119.
World Health Organization. Global recommendations on physical activity for health. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO Press; 2010.
Wilson, K. (2021). Physical Activity and Exercise Prescription. Retrieved from Physiopedia: http://www.physio-pedia.com/Physical_Activity_and_Exercise_Prescription