July 12, 2012

Balance Exercises for Seniors: Staying Well... and Independent

Balance typically worsens as we age. It can be complicated by medical conditions, as I'm well aware. My concerns about balance first drove me to see a neurologist, who delivered my Parkinson's diagnosis.

Poor balance often leads to falls, which cause head injuries and bone fractures. Hip fractures especially bring serious health complications and often limit our independence.

Lots of studies confirm that older adults benefit from a combination of walking, strength training, and balance activities. Tai chi, yoga, and Pilates can help. Even walking on uneven surfaces, like cobblestones or hiking trails, if done carefully, helps improve balance over time.

Guidelines for seniors recommend 30 minutes of balance training and muscle-strengthening exercises three times a week, plus at least 30 minutes of walking activities twice weekly at a  minimum.

Getting Started
That's always the hard part, closely followed by "Sticking with It." You can find lots of advice on balance exercises on the internet or in bookstores. Here's a video I use often. It only takes five minutes and covers several frequently recommended exercises:

Here are two more "most recommended" balance exercises:
  • Heel-to-toe walk.  Position your heel in front of the toes of the opposite foot each time you take a step. Heels and toes should actually touch as you walk forward for eight to 12 steps. If necessary, steady yourself by putting one hand on a wall or a counter as you walk. Then work toward doing the exercise without support. Repeat two to four times.
  • Chair Stand.  Place a small pillow at the back of your chair and position the chair so that its back is resting against a wall. Sit on the front of the chair, knees bent, feet flat on the floor and slightly apart.  Lean back on the pillow in a half-reclining position with your arms crossed and your hands on your shoulders. Keeping your back and shoulders straight, raise your upper body forward until you are sitting upright. Stand up slowly, using your hands as little as possible. Slowly sit back down. Do eight to 12 repetitions. Rest and repeat.
Exercises for People with Parkinson's
My neurologist is part of Georgetown University Hospital's Center for Movement Disorders and Parkinson's. At one of our early meetings, he gave me a prescription for the BIG exercise program offered by the hospital's physical therapy department. This program was specifically designed for people with Parkinson’s by the same organization – Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) – that developed the LOUD speech therapy for people with PD. Georgetown’s program is also designed to help with each client’s special needs. The PT program also incorporates some of the ideas of the voice training program, since you are trained to shout out your exercise counts in a good, loud voice. Here's a video clip that gives you an idea of how the program works:

1 comment:

Ted Gideon said...

John, thanks for this post.  My balance is not what it should be and I have been slow to start addressing the issue.