Throughout life, physical exercise is important to help you stay in shape, but it becomes even more important as we get older.
Exercise plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy weight, strengthening your muscles and bones, and reducing your risk of diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. But as we age our muscles weaken and we become more susceptible to certain types of injuries.
Why is balance training important?
Balance training is particularly useful for seniors, since it is a simple way to stay active and a great way to prevent falls.
Our sense of balance comes from three types of cues from the body:
- Visual (what you see)
- Proprioception (knowing where parts of your body are without seeing them)
- Information from the inner ear
As we age, all three of these senses gradually become less reliable and it becomes necessary to make a more conscious effort to import your balance.
Benefits of Balance Training
Research has shown that balance training has plenty of benefits, and here are just a few:
- Helps prevent falls – Falling and breaking a hip or another bone is a fear on many senior’s minds today. As we get older, our bones become more susceptible to breaking from slips and falls. Doing balance training exercises can reduce your risk of falling, since it makes your muscles stronger and helps with flexibility. Even if you do have a fall, being more fit can help you recover from an injury faster.
- Core strength – A stronger core leads to better posture and more energy, and will lead to protecting your central nervous system. The core muscles are used in almost everything you do: housework, moving from sitting to standing, and simple daily tasks.
- Prevents back pain – Since balance training strengthens your core and major muscle groups such as the quads, it will take less pressure off your back. Stretching your back before and after balance training will help to loosen your stiff muscles.
- Helps arthritis – According to the Arthritis Foundation, more than 50 million adults in the US have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. Balance training will help with the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. Exercise will help to keep your bones strong, and will strengthen the muscles that cross your joints. If you don’t exercise and your muscles get weaker, then your joints affected by arthritis will have more pressure put on them.
- Exercise is fun – Exercise is has been shown to increase happiness, and the simple challenge of improving your balance can be very entertaining. Also, exercising in a group has social benefits: you can make new friends and meet new people. If you are signed up for a class, then you’ll be more likely to adhere to your exercise plan than if you were exercising on your own. Even if you are exercising on your own, it can still be fun and enjoyable.
Balance training is a great starting point to help you gain confidence before trying other exercises and generally becoming more active. You can work yourself up to doing more complex exercises, and then they won’t seem as daunting as they would if you started without trying balance training first.
Exercises to Improve Balance
So you’re ready to get started. Thankfully there is a wide array of exercises you can do that will improve your balance. Here are a few different exercises to try:
- Standing on one leg – Since having weak ankles can lead to trips and falls, we have to do all that we can to strengthen them. Start off with standing on one foot for 10 seconds, then switching legs. Do this for a little bit longer each day until you work your way up to 1 minute on each foot.
- Balance board exercises – There are various types of balance boards with carrying levels of difficulty to help you train. The aim is to stand atop of the board and keep the sides from touching the ground. Don’t be intimidated, these balance boards can be fun and extremely effective once you get the hang of them.
- Tai Chi – Tai Chi is excellent for balance, relaxation and for aiding the lymphatic system. This gentle exercise helps your proprioception sense, which will improve your balance.
- Aqua aerobics – Training in water is an excellent way to improve your balance. According to WaterExerciseCoach.com: “Balance activities are more easily done in the water as the support of buoyancy reduces fear of falling” Exercising in water takes the weight off of your joints, allowing you to move more freely.
As with any exercise program, it’s best to speak with your doctor before beginning. The types of exercises that are best for you may depend on if you have a condition such as arthritis, heart disease or diabetes. Your doctor or physiotherapist can help you find the right exercise plan that won’t aggravate any joint pain, while giving you the most benefits as possible.
Balance training isn’t something that should be overlooked and thankfully is an easy addition to your daily routine. Even just a few minutes a day can improve your balance, make you stronger, help your immune system and will also be fun. Reduce your risk of injuries by starting today. Just a few simple daily exercises can keep you steady for years to come.
Rob Smith writes for 500CalorieFitness.com , focusing on simple yet effective strategies to improve health and wellbeing for the long term.