Fitness Education: The Importance of Balance Training

This post includes exercises for balance.  If you are sedentary or have a health condition that warrants further evaluation, consult with your physician first before starting an exercise program.

Many of us have parents, grandparents, or friends that are over age 65.  The older they are the more concerned we tend to be about their health and well-being, especially if they are not physically active and we start to see declines in their strength, stamina, and functional abilities.

An important component of fitness with aging and across all populations that deserves attention is balance training, especially when it comes to fall and injury prevention, recovering from an injury or enhancing athletic performance.

What is Balance?

Balance is a term used to describe the ability to maintain an upright position.  The term “postural stability” describes balance more specifically as the ability of an individual to maintain their center of gravity within a base of support.

Categories of Balance

There are two types of balance, static and dynamic.  Static balance is defined as balancing in one place without movement, whereas dynamic balance is defined as balancing with movement such as walking or reaching forward.

Why Is Balance Important?

There is an increased risk of falling and fall-related injuries (such as fractures and sprains) with age.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 Americans aged 65 and older falls each year.  Good balance helps to decrease these risks and to maintain independence with aging.

What Factors Affect Balance?

Loss of muscle strength with aging occurs with age even inactive adults.  However, engaging in a well-rounded consistent strength training program for all major muscle groups (that importantly addresses leg strength) can help to slow down the decline in muscle mass associated with aging.

Decreased joint and muscle flexibility (range of motion).  Decreased joint and muscle flexibility can be addressed by including stretching exercises along with strength training exercises in an individual’s exercise program.

A decline in sensory capabilities with age

Changes in vision, hearing, taste, balance, vestibular function (the vestibular system includes parts of the inner ear and brain that help to control balance and eye movements), and proprioception (a sense of where you are in space) decline which increases the risk for falling.

Neurological conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s, dementia, peripheral neuropathies, and vestibular disorders can predispose a person to falls.

Arthritic conditions can weaken the muscles, joints, and bones which can affect postural stability.

Postural hypotension also known as orthostatic hypotension is a form of low blood pressure that occurs when you stand up from a seated or lying position.  This can make a person feel dizzy or faint and cause a fall.

Medications – Many seniors take multiple medications for various health conditions and some medications can have sedating effects which can cause confusion or dizziness.  This is often seen with medications for hypertension and the side effects associated with these medications.

What are some basic balance exercises that you can practice?

The most common exercise that most people tend to be familiar with is the single-leg balance or the Tandem Stand where you are balancing with both feet, where one foot is directly in front of the other.  The following video demonstrates several basic exercises with progressions that you can practice at home.

When performing balance training exercises, it is very important to perform the exercises near a wall, table, counter, or chair for safety (and stability).

 How can you incorporate balance training into your current routine?

Balance training can be placed into different areas of your current exercise program as a part of the warm-up, main section, or cool down.  If you do not have a structured exercise routine, balance exercises can be incorporated at various times of the day such as during TV commercial breaks, before or after walking the dog, as part of an office stretch break or in between daily chores.

How often to perform Balance Training Exercises?

Research has not yet identified what is optimal for frequency, duration, and type of balance exercises to be performed.  However, it is generally recommended to include balance training at least two times per week (three times preferred) for 10-15 minutes per session.

When is the best time to start?

It is never too late to start or incorporate balance training into your routine or schedule.  Forms of exercise that are also helpful include Yoga and Tai Chi which are highly regarded and effective for improving balance.

REFERENCES
American College of Sports Medicine.  ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer 5th ed.  Philadelphia (PA):  Wolters Kluwer; 2018 pp. 499-501, 557.
https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/older-adult-falls/index.html
Rogers, M., Page, P, and Takeshima, N.  (2013).  Balance Training for the Older Athlete.  The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 8 (4), 517-530.