On March 5, 2020, Nik Wallenda became the first person to walk a tightrope across an active volcano — and it was broadcast live on television. Now that’s putting your balance training to the test. Fortunately you don’t need the drama of a volcano to show off your skills. You can tip the balance in your favor by adding a little training to your daily routine. And because dizziness is a symptom of poor balance, the head-spins and wooziness may soon be in your rearview mirror.
What are the symptoms of balance problems?
The two chief symptoms of balance issues are being unstable while walking and standing. It may be challenging to walk without falling and the fear of losing your balance can be a source of great anxiety. A misstep can lead to a fall and possibly a serious injury. Unfortunately, half of older adults think they’ll be less likely to fall if they cut back on their level of physical activity. But experts say the opposite may be true. Many exercises help improve your stability and balance.
Natural ways to improve balance
Tai chi. This is an easy, slow motion exercise that anyone can benefit from no matter what their age. You simply follow a pattern of flowing movements through various poses and stances. The motions are gentle and graceful so you don’t need strong muscles or super flexibility. That’s why older women may find it easy to stick with this kind of exercise. But gentle doesn’t mean ineffective.
Research shows tai chi can improve balance, prevent falls, and increase physical performance skills. According to Harvard Health, a one-hour tai chi session three times a week was just as good as brisk walking for improving balance, flexibility and bone strength in older women.
Yoga. Like tai chi, yoga is a low-impact exercise, but both these exercises improve your balance and strength. That’s why studies suggest yoga and tai chi may reduce your risk of falls by almost 50 percent.
One type of yoga called Iyengar yoga lets you use props to help with poses. Experts believe this type of yoga improves gait speed, increases leg flexibility and helps participants gain more confidence in their walking and balance. This improved balance and stability may help reduce the danger of falls.
Stretching. If taking yoga or tai chi classes isn’t for you, consider gardening or line dancing to improve your balance — or simply do stretches at home. You can start with these.
- Plantar flexion stretch. Hold on to a chair or table for balance. Slowly stand on tiptoe, count to two, and lower your heels. Repeat up to 15 times, rest for a minute, and then repeat another eight to 15 times.
- Knee flexion stretch. Hold on to a chair or table for balance. Bend one knee so you slowly raise your foot behind you, count to two, and slowly lower your foot. Rest for a few seconds and repeat with the other leg. Repeat this exercise, switching from one leg to the other, until you’ve done up to 15 repetitions with each leg.
- Hip flexion stretch. While gripping a chair or table for balance, slowly raise one knee in front of you so it is at the same height as your hip. Count to two and slowly lower your foot to the ground. Do the same with the other leg. Repeat this exercise, switching from one leg to the other, until you’ve done up to 15 repetitions with each leg.
Chew gum. When you are filling a little off-kilter, pop a stick of gum in your mouth. In one study, people with balance problems stood on a platform while researchers measured the amount of sway they displayed. Then the participants stood on the same platform, but this time they chewed gum for three minutes. The researchers observed much less swaying.
Anytime, anywhere’ balance exercises
These following exercises also boost your balance. You can perform them literally anywhere — providing you have something strong nearby to grasp if you become unstable.
- Walk heel-to-toe. Place your heel slightly in front of the toes of the opposing foot as you take a step. The goal is for your heel and toes to touch or almost touch.
- Stand on one foot while waiting in line at the bank or the supermarket. Alternate feet.
- Without using your hands, stand up and sit down.
Balance, dizziness and hearing aids
Believe it or not, hearing loss affects your sense of balance. Older women with the worst hearing in one study were three to four times more likely to fall. Gait and balance are things a lot of people take for granted, but they are actually cognitively demanding. Your brain has to work extra hard to make up for poor hearing. That means it has less energy to devote to maintaining your balance. Have your hearing checked by a doctor or audiologist. Get fitted for hearing aids if you need them, and have a professional show you how to adjust them properly. Be sure to wear one in each ear if you need it, for the best balance.
If dizziness continues to be a problem for you, take extra precautions like these to manage dizziness and avoid falls.
- Sit on the edge of your bed for a minute before standing in the morning.
- Store often-used items between waist- and eye-level and use a reaching device to pick up items off the floor to avoid bending down.
- Try waist-high compression stockings if dizziness occurs when you stand up too quickly.
Issues associated with dizziness aren’t usually life-threatening, and audiologists in New Jersey can help. Focusing on you balance is just one more way to stay strong and steady.