Many people notice that they are less steady on their feet as they age. Becoming less steady is a normal part of aging, as balance may be affected by arthritis, sensation changes in your legs, and balance receptors in your ears (your ‘vestibular system’) becoming less fluid.
When people feel unsteady, they are likely to move less, which makes them weaker, and more likely to fall. It’s a vicious cycle. The old axiom about “move it or lose it” can apply to balance and activity. The good news is that your balance, strength, endurance, and flexibility can all be improved at any age.
There are things you can do to help improve your balance and feel more confident.
- Keep moving! It is important you keep some form of activity in your day. That activity can be practicing moving from sitting to standing without using your hands, or trying to stand on one leg while holding the counter. Choose an activity that gently challenges you. Be sure to keep yourself safe!
- Take a short walk each day, and gradually increase the time and distance you are walking. Remember to pace yourself and breathe deeply. We live in a beautiful region. Get outside and enjoy it!
- Do some gentle stretching. Reach your arms over your head, turn your shoulders when sitting, and move your toes up and down, bending at the ankle.
- Drink enough water. Start your day with a big glass (8 ounces) of water – before your coffee.
- Consider using a cane, walking stick, or other device. A cane can increase your independence rather than limit it. You will gradually lose mobility if you don’t leave your home because you are afraid of falling. You may feel more confident if you use a cane “just in case.” Using a cane may make it possible to go out in the community. Make sure the device is the correct size: the top of the cane or walker handles should come to the bend in your wrist. Your wrist should be level with or slightly higher than your elbow when holding a walking stick.
- Get engaged in your community! Join a bowling league or local exercise class. Many Tai Chi classes are offered locally and have great evidence to show that they help improve balance.
- Learn a new skill. Take a class in something you are interested in. Many senior centers or recreation departments offer classes designed for seniors. Your brain also needs to be exercised.
- Look at your environment. Pick up fall or trip hazards such as clutter or throw rugs. Watch for uneven ground.
Looking to do more? The UVM Medical Center, in collaboration with the Greater Burlington YMCA, will be hosting Enhance Fitness, an exercise class for older adults. This 16-week class meets three times each week for one hour and has been proven help improve balance and fitness for participants. For more information, call (802) 847-7012, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catherine F. Shearer, PT, MPA, GCS, is a therapy research educator at the University of Vermont Medical Center.