Children often challenge their balance from the moment they become alert. It is a time of great change and growth and you can almost see their brains soak in all the new information and figure out how to process it. While they are propped up for tummy time they reach for toys shifting their center of gravity by moving to one side. Next up is rolling where they use the weight of their head to pull themselves into a new position. Crawling is a huge milestone where babies get freedom of movement across the room and can pull up to standing. Now they must learn to maintain their balance while 1 or 2 limbs are moving underneath them. Toddlers experience a lot of falls when they start walking because their balance systems are still developing but they quickly develop this system and transition to running which requires being on 1 limb at a time. It is incredible how their brains develop this awareness in a short span of time. Unfortunately, as we age these systems tend to lose some of their agility and we find our balance is not as good as it once was. Some people can pinpoint an injury or illness that impacted their balance while others have a gradual decline and are unable to state a reason or timeframe. The good news is that with practice this system still has the ability to learn new tricks and we can prevent falls by working on balance and strength.
When was the last time that you chose to crawl on the floor? Do you think you could still do it? What are your limitations that you chose to avoid that activity? And how do you think you could regain that skill? Being able to get on and off the floor is an essential skill to have when getting older to maintain a level of independence and also to be able to get up if a fall occurs. Let’s get into what balance exercises are helpful for seniors. One could work directly with a physical therapist who assesses your balance and issues you the appropriate exercises to work on. Others find it helpful to become part of their senior centers balance classes where things can be adapted to each individual.
If you are at home and looking to get started here are 4 balance exercises to get you started.
All 4’s rocking side to side:
Get onto the floor in a safe manner and get into a crawling position. Make sure your hands are directly under your shoulders and that your knees are directly under your hips. Once you are stable close your eyes and gently rock side to side. This is a fairly stable position since you have a large base of support underneath you while giving input to your vestibular system.
Repeat this for 30 seconds 3 separate times.
All 4’s reaching
Stay in your crawling position from the All 4’s rocking side to side. This time you will be reaching for an object moving it from the right side of your body to the left side. Switch arms each time allowing yourself to reconnect both hands to the floor before moving the object to the other side. You can use an empty salt container as it stays upright and is easy to move with 1 hand. Repeat this 20 times.
Practice kicking a salt container
I like using an empty salt container for this activity because it is light and doesn’t fall over too easily. While standing next to your kitchen sink simply attempt to lightly kick the container on the floor. The goal is to lightly tap the salt container without knocking it over and slowly getting the foot back to the ground to regain balance. This allows you to stand on 1 leg while the other leg is in motion thus challenging the ability to stand on 1 leg. Perform 10 taps on each leg.
Standing head turns
Stand next to the kitchen sink with your hand over the counter but not holding on. Feet should be apart about shoulder width. Now move your head halfway to the right and then back to center. Next move your head halfway to the left and back to center. If that was successful, move through that range of motion 20 times going smoothly from right to left. This will challenge your vestibulo-spinal reflex.