Inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle can result in muscle weakness and deconditioning of your heart and lungs, which are major risk factors for falls. Most of the clients I see for balance and falls have a hard time getting out of a chair without using their hands. Many clients cannot comfortably stand on one foot, even for a brief moment. In most cases, these issues can get better through exercise.
Exercise is one of the best ways to stay active, healthy and prevent falls. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) recommends that everyone exercises at least 30 minutes 5 times a week. One of my favorite quotes came from a 93 year old gentleman I was working with who said, “I don’t know, but I think I am starting to like my exercises!” He showed me that exercise can be effective at ANY age!
The body uses 4 major systems to control our balance:
- Inner ear
- Awareness of one’s own body position (proprioception).
Community exercise programs for balance generally address muscle weakness. A specialized program can be developed by a physical therapist to address other areas.
General Exercises to Manage Balance and Help Prevent Falls
Even though managing balance and falls is often difficult, there tends to be a few general exercises that I have all my clients do:
- Practice moving from sit to stand out of a chair,
- Standing heel raises, and
- Standing on one foot.
These simple exercises help strengthen the major muscles you use to control balance. For the Sit to Stand and Heel Raise exercises, start with just a few, maybe five, and gradually increase the number. Use the support of a chair or counter at first to balance. When practicing standing on one leg, you should start by holding onto a counter. Hold the position for at least 30 seconds, working your way up to a minute. You should do enough to where your legs feel tired. If you do not feel that you are working, you’re NOT! You may have to repeat the exercise.
For a real challenge, remove your hands from the chair or counter. You can start by taking one hand off then eventually both. This can be risky! If you have any concerns about your safety or ability to start exercising, talk with your doctor or physical therapist, especially if you have not been exercising regularly, have fallen recently, or have medical problems. It is also a good idea to have someone with you until you know that you can do the exercises safely.
More information on exercise classes in your region.
Learn more The University of Vermont Medical Center’s Fall Prevention Clinic, or call 802-847-1902.
Tim Bissonette is a physical therapist at the University of Vermont Medical Center Rehabilitation Therapy Center at Fanny Allen Campus