Balance Training for Older Adults

According to research provided by the American College of Sports Medicine, Balance Training can assist with activities of daily living for the aging, adult population.  “Balance is key to activities of daily living, performance, fall prevention and independence. Balance can be affected by muscular strength and endurance, as well as proprioception, inner ear function and eye-sight. It can be maintained and even improved as we age through practicing balance-specific training exercises. Research has shown that using specific tools in a safe environment can be particularly effective in improving your balance and enhancing your postural stability. Research has also shown that this type of training helps to reduce back, knee and ankle injuries.”

BALANCE AND AGING

With age, balance tends to decline due to lower muscular strength and flexibility, as well as numerous other causes including loss of proprioception and inner ear problems. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), nine percent of the adult population ages 65 and older report having difficulty with balance. This, along with a decline in lower body strength and stability, leads to an alarming 300,000 hospital admissions for fall-related injuries among older adults each year. The good news is that balance can be improved with simple exercises that can be done in therapy settings, health clubs or even at home.

ABOUT BALANCE 
TRAINING TOOLS

Balance Training tools come in all shapes and sizes. They can be as simple as your own two feet or a pillow, or they can be made of foam, wood, rubber, springs, etc. These tools, along with balance training exercises, can rehabilitate, strengthen muscles and condition the body, as well as improve stability and postural alignment and help prevent falls. Men and women of all ages and activity levels can benefit from balance training. Start simply and progress slowly, gradually increasing the difficulty of the exercises.  You may start with exercises such as balancing on one foot and then progress to using simple foam filled balance pads to challenge the body on an unstable surface.

BALANCE TRAINING TOOLS
 YOU CAN USE

Regular exercise, such as walking, can increase your strength and coordination, which are important for maintaining balance. The following provide more targeted balance training.

Balance Pillow – This foam-filled pad allows you to sit or stand (with one foot or two) on a spongy, unstable surface to improve posture and stability. This is a great tool for someone starting a Balance Training program.

 balance tools

Balance Disc – This tool is a round rubber disc inflated with air to create an unstable surface. Balance discs can be used while seated or standing to improve balance and coordination or to add intensity to body-strengthening exercises.

Blue Half-Ball – This is a stability ball cut in half with a flat, hard bottom. You can stand, sit or kneel on the air-filled ball portion of the tool or on the hard plastic side with the round surface down to create a rocking balance exercise. Blue half-balls are great for balance, core stability and proprioception training.

Foam Roller – This tool comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. These foam- filled balance, posture and core training tools can be round, half-round, short (1′) or long (3′). To use this tool you may kneel, stand, lie or sit on the device.

Balance Board – The flat top to this tool allows you to stand and practice your balance while elevated on a spherical base. The range of motion that the device allows can be adjusted for changes in difficulty.

Stability Ball – This inflatable ball comes in different sizes and can be used as a balance and/or strength-training aid.

SAFETY AND CONSIDERATIONS

Balance training tools should only be used on a flat, stable, non-slip surface. Be sure to consult with your physician prior to starting a Balance Training program. Always practice balance training near a stable structure (such as a wall, bar or counter) to give you some assistance if you slip or begin to fall; or practice under the supervision of a qualified professional.

IMPLEMENTING A BALANCE TRAINING PROGRAM
When starting any new training program, it is important to use a gradual progression. Begin with low-intensity exercises and progress to more challenging exercises. When performing balance exercises, it is helpful to establish a stable, non-moving focal point. This will keep your attention and allow you to focus your eyesight for better stability.

GETTING STARTED

At first, you may start with simple balance training exercises – such as standing on one foot for a few seconds, and then gradually increasing your time for more difficulty. General guidelines for Balance Training include:

• Start with a relatively stable foundation or position before progressing to a less stable foundation or position.

• Start with static or stationary position (holding a position) before adding any movement (e.g., walking or stepping) or resistance (e.g., adding a hand weight).

• From there, you may add movement to your balance pose, such as lifting your arms while still keeping your balance on one foot.  When you need to be challenged beyond this exercise, add a balance tool of your choice.

You might start by sitting on a blue half-ball with two feet on the ground, and then move to one-footed contact while seated. You can move to standing on a blue half-ball with both feet while using a stationary aid like a wall, railing or chair for balance assistance. Finally, you can progress from standing on a blue half-ball without assistance to stepping on and off the half-ball with assistance, then without.

To get set up with a personalized program, one that is appropriate for your current fitness level and balance abilities, consult your physical therapist or fitness professional. To reduce risk of injury from falls, community dwelling older adults with substantial risk of falls (e.g., with frequent falls or mobility problems) should perform exercises that maintain or improve balance. Balance Training should be performed daily for improvement in overall stability. Perform balance training before you do resistance training, so your muscles are not fatigued, to ensure that it works.

Reprinted with permission of the American College of Sports Medicine. Copyright © 2011 American College of Sports Medicine. This brochure was created and updated by Jennifer Jens, B.S, and is a product of ACSM’s Consumer Information Committee. Visit ACSM online at http://www.acsm.org.

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