Balance isn’t just for the playground. It’s one of the main components of fitness and thus essential for living a high-quality life.
Imagine spending your whole life feeling like you’re walking on a narrow beam. For people who lack balance, this is their reality.
Most of us perform balance exercises when we want to improve our athletic performance. Truth is, balance is an integral part of life, not just sport. Balance becomes particularly important in the later stages of life when the body starts to frail. Without balance, we lose our independence and increase our risk of falls and fractures.
In this article, we’re going to discuss the importance of balance, and how you can implement it into your client’s sessions.
Importance of Balance
Functional Daily Life
With age, our functional, neural, muscular, and bone systems decline. Simple daily tasks become increasingly difficult. Most of us think vacuuming a room is a relatively easy task. But, when we break it down, we need a good amount of balance, strength, and coordination to perform such a task. A lack of balance, strength, and coordination suddenly makes an easy task impossible. A systematic review by Liu et al. (2014) identified training programmes that incorporate functional training, which mimics the movements we use in everyday tasks, benefited our strength, balance, and mobility. Specifically, in everyday movements. Such exercises also led to the prevention or delayed onset of disabilities related to an older age. Similarly, training programmes that include balance exercises correlated with progress in balance-specific tests.
Reducing Risk of Falls
The main cause of accidental death in elderly people is falling. Falls are associated with our balance control ability and flexibility. Balance is affected by changes in our vision, sensations in our feet, and vestibular problems – all issues we face with the aging process. In a review by Gardner et al. (2000), exercise was shown to reduce the risk of falls in men and women aged 60 years and older. Consequently, balance exercise should form part of a fall prevention programme. In addition to improved quality of life and a reduced risk of falling for the client, lowering fall incidents will also contribute to lower healthcare costs.
Throughout life, we organically lose people who have a major or minor presence in our lives. A major concern amongst elderly people is loneliness. When we retire we go from seeing colleagues every day to once in a blue moon. As health deteriorates many of our friends and loved ones develop ongoing health issues that eventually lead to death. It’s natural to experience a loss of social interaction as we get older. Experiencing long periods alone puts you in a vulnerable state, especially when your health is deteriorating. Without balance, we lose a lot of our independence. Suddenly a walk through the woods becomes a dangerous prospect when we feel unbalanced on our feet. Or even walking to the fridge can be a nerve-wracking experience. Balance training encourages us to remain confident in our ability to perform everyday tasks without developing a strong fear of falling. Regular exercise not only strengthens our body but also the mind. Physical ability alongside confidence is what we need to remain independent.
Balance exercises can be divided into static and dynamic. Static balance is the ability to maintain the body in a fixed position. Dynamic balance is the ability to maintain postural stability and orientation with centre of mass over the base of support while the body parts are in motion. Put simply, remaining stable when we’re still and when we’re moving. Both are key for maintaining an independent life, thus both must be included within our training plan. The Berg balance test can be used to monitor your client’s progress over the training programme. Here are a few examples of static and dynamic balance exercises:
Static Balance Exercises
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Place your hands on your hips. Lift your leg off the floor and bend it back from the knee. Hold for 30 seconds. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite leg.
Stand with one foot in front of the other so the toes of one foot are touching the heel of the other. Place your arms out to the side and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Dynamic Balance Exercises
Stand with your feet hip-width apart on the ground or a raised surface such as a step. Push through your toes to raise your heels. Pause for a second, then slowly lower. Complete 15-20 reps.
Stand in front of a step, then alternate stepping on the step. Aim for 30 seconds to a minute of work.
Always consult the client’s GP or physiotherapist before implementing an exercise training programme.
Gardner MM, Robertson MC, Campbell AJExercise in preventing falls and fall related injuries in older people: a review of randomised controlled trialsBritish Journal of Sports Medicine 2000;34:7-17.
Liu, Cj., Shiroy, D.M., Jones, L.Y. et al. Systematic review of functional training on muscle strength, physical functioning, and activities of daily living in older adults. Eur Rev Aging Phys Act 11, 95–106 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11556-014-0144-1
Susan B O sullivan, Leslie G Portnry. Physical Rehabilitation :Sixth Edition. Philadelphia: FA Davis. 2014.