By L.J. Rohan, MA, GCG, CAPS~
Falling is a major concern of aging. This fear can drastically shrink our activities and the breadth of our lives.
However, simple and fun exercises can keep us upright. We are animals built on the principle of “use it or lose it” — so getting our bodies tumble-proof begins with practicing balance.
Part of the vestibular system inside our ears is a small organ called the labyrinth, responsible for both hearing and balance. Barring any underlying health issues, the signals the labyrinth sends to our hippocampus (responsible for memory, learning, and balance) can become weaker and garbled over time. If the hippocampus is compromised, our brain becomes unable to accurately send the correct message to the other parts of the body. This can lead to tumbles and spills -particularly in our senior years.
Another common cause of falling is underdeveloped core muscles and weakened feet. Without strong core, leg, and feet muscles, the labyrinth’s signals to the brain may go unheeded. With a few simple exercises, we can shore up the communication lines to the hippocampus and build toned muscles to keep us from careening into the hard edge of a table or unforgiving cement sidewalk.
1. No Shoes in the House
Purchase some rubber-bottomed socks and start padding around the house in them. The more time spent out of shoes, the stronger your feet will become. By spring, walking barefoot will be second nature!
2. Brush Your Teeth Standing on One Foot
This is the easiest way to practice balance. While brushing in the morning, raise your left foot off the ground. Bend one knee to a 90-degree angle from the floor, and lightly touch the counter with the tip of your non-brushing index finger. Raise your finger for as long as you can. Repeat the same exercise in the evening, but switch feet and hands. Before too long you will be able to brush all your pearly whites without touching the counter at all!
3. No-Hand Chair Rise
Practice getting out of a chair without using your hands.
4. Strengthen Your Trunk, Spine, and Erector Muscles
Three exercises done daily will firm up your core muscles to improve balance in just a few weeks.
Opposite Arm/Leg Raise: On the floor on all fours, stretch out the opposite arm and leg. Hold for six seconds and work up to 10 seconds. Switch arms and legs. Start with six reps and work up to 10.
Plank: This is a classic yoga pose. With palms and toes on the ground, keep your body in a straight plank position. Hold as long as you can, work up to one minute.
Reverse Crunches or Reverse Sit-Ups: In the classic sit-up position, raise your knees and bottom off the ground and bring them to your head, then lower only halfway back down before repeating. Do 10 reps, and work up to two sets of 12.
Research from both Japan and the US shows that dancing is one of the best balance-enhancing activities we can do.
I tap dance once a week for 70 minutes. Ballroom dancing with a partner in your home (or out, when normal life resumes) is equally fun. The combination of dancing and music does wonders for your brain as well!
With just a few simple additions to your day, you can improve your balance, fundamentally change the course of aging, and remain active well into your senior years.