Have you frequently been experiencing falls lately? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Balance loss and falls aren’t uncommon among seniors. If you improve your balance, you may find these problems will disappear.
When you reach the age of 70, your muscle mass may degenerate to about 40%, with your strength declining at 30%. Such a loss is more salient in your lower extremities. Since your legs have weakened, there is apparently a higher probability of falling or losing balance.
Therefore, it is crucial to be physically active through performing a variety of exercises geared towards increasing strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance. Some exercises, in particular, are essential to help you improve balance.
Alarming Statistics: Falls in Older Adults
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of three older adults (65 or older) falls each year. Additionally, here are a few more facts and figures related to the incidence of falls among seniors:
Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries.
Falls are the most common cause of brain injuries among older adults.
In 2011, approximately 22,900 of deaths in older adults were due to fall injuries.
In 2013, 2.5 million nonfatal falls among older adults were treated in emergency departments, with over 700,000 of them hospitalized.
Falls account for most fractures in seniors, with over 95% of hip fractures caused by these accidents.
Moreover, many older adults develop a fear of falling. So, they consequently try to refrain from doing any form of physical activity and, in some cases, carrying out normal activities. The irony of it, however, is that their fear increases their risk of falling due to diminished physical fitness. Worse, this same fear robs them of their freedom and independence.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention further suggests that falls can be prevented through regular exercise. Although overall fitness is a goal to strive for, you need to primarily focus on some strength training and balancing exercises to improve balance.
Tools For You
1. BOSU® Balance Trainer
Widely known as BOSU® Ball, the BOSU® Balance Trainer is an inflated half-sphere attached to a rigid platform. The acronym “BOSU” basically stands for BOth Sides Up since this device can indeed be positioned in two ways. Depending on the exercise performed, you can have either the dome or the platform facing up.
Although the learning curve for the BOSU® Ball is pretty easy, you may still need some time to get comfortable using it. Here are a few safety tips when using the BOSU® Ball for the first time:
1. Start slow. Just start with a simple “step up and down” routine.
2. As you get more comfortable, begin with simple exercise routines.
3. Hold on to a body bar or a sturdy chair to give you support while standing on the ball.
In addition, the BOSU® website also provides a couple of training exercises for older adults using the BOSU® ball.
2. Balance Discs
Also called a wobble board or wiggle cushion, a balance disc is an air-filled disc or pad (usually with nibbed surface) that works to create an uneven surface for more challenging exercises to improve balance. Its durable, sturdy design allows you to stand, sit, kneel, or lie down on it. Workouts incorporated with routines using balance discs can definitely improve your balance and increase your core strength. The disc may be inflated or deflated according to your desired level of challenge.
Balance discs available in the market:
J Fit Balance Training Disc
Works well in both home and commercial settings
Inflatable with needle and pump included
Anti-burst disc with 350-lb weight capacity
Anti-burst disc with 500-lb weight capacity
The most expensive
Inflatable (Needle and pump not included)
May not be the most durable of the three, but the least expensive
Examples of exercises for older adults using a balance disc:
Standing on one foot at a time.
Front bends while standing on the disc – With hands on either side of your hips, slowly bend your torso forward (without going too deep). Go back to standing position. Repeat 5-18 times.
Superman hold (advanced level) – Stand with both feet on the disc. Raise both arms in front of you while simultaneously lifting your left leg behind you, reaching only as high as you can. Hold for 3-5 seconds. Do this 3-4 times. Repeat the exercise with your right leg.
Knee raises – Standing with both feet on the disc, raise your left knee forming a 90-degree angle. Do this 4-5 times. Repeat the exercise this time with your right knee.
Some older adults actually prefer using two balance discs (one disc for each foot) while doing the exercises. Reason being, it feels a bit safer doing so. Secondly, they find it much easier to balance. As a beginner, you may opt to use two discs. Then, you may eventually shift into using one disc once your balance has improved and confidence rises.
3. Exercise Balls
Also referred to as a stability ball, an exercise ball is a soft, lightweight, inflated plastic ball used for strength training routines as well as balance exercises and to improve balance.
Exercise balls available in the market:
30-inch; anti-burst gym ball
2-way hand pump included
Available colors: Green, Pink, Blue, Purple, Yellow, Silver
Different sizes available
500-lb weight capacity
Inflation measuring tape, nozzle, and plug included
Available colors: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple, Gray, Pearl, Black
Different sizes available
Anti-burst exercise ball
Air pump and DVD workouts included
Different sizes available
Available colors: Blue, Green, Purple
Examples of exercises for older adults using an exercise ball:
Leg lifts – Sit on the ball. Place hands on either side for support. Lift your left leg, initially bent and slowly flexing it forward. Hold for 5 seconds. Do it 3-5 times. Repeat the exercise using your right leg.
Back stretch – In a seated position, raise your arms forward with your fingers interlaced. Bend forward, rounding your back and pressing your arms away from the body.
Torso stretch – In a seated position, straighten your arms forward with your hands clasped together and bring them overhead with palms facing the ceiling. Slowly bend your torso to the right side (feeling a nice stretch on the left side of your body). Then bend to your left side. Hold each stretch for 5-10 seconds. Repeat the exercise 3-5 times.
Hip rotations – Sit on the ball with feet placed firmly on the floor and legs at a 90-degree angle. Using your hips, slowly move and rotate the ball in a clockwise direction. Do the rotation 5-6 times. Then repeat counter-clockwise.
Additional safety tips:
Put the ball against the wall or use a chair (whenever necessary) for additional support.
Do not force your movements. Only go as far or high as you can go.
These tools are certainly helpful when doing exercises to help you improve balance. It is best to do these exercises in the presence of a competent trainer. However, should you choose to do them on your own, do everything in a slow, unhurried, and relaxed pace. We cannot stress enough that safety must be a top priority.
Browse Guide For Seniors for more information of interest to you and the Senior community.
Are you ready for some balancing exercises? Which tool do you intend to use first? Share your thoughts and experiences with us. Drop us a line on our Facebook page, we’d love to hear from you.
Update from Marilyn:
“Guide for Seniors recommends using a BOSU to gain balance, including using “either side” of the BOSU. DO NOT EVER USE THE FLAT SIDE OF THE BOSU no matter who tells you it’s okay. It is absolutely not recommended by the manufacturer. Despite warnings against it which I was not aware of, my personal trainer had me stand on the flat side while lifting weights and he walked away. I fell and broke both of my arms and severed a tendon and ended up having multiple surgeries.”
We hope that Marilyn has recovered from her terrible accident. We did not reach out to the makers of the Bosu Ball but this is important enough to warn everyone. Whenever doing any exercise, with or without exercise aids, it is vital to be extra careful. Falls are bad enough whenever they happen, but to occur when using an exercise aid, the fall can have terrible consequences.