Your ability to balance is dictated by 3 main inputs from your body: your visual system, your proprioceptive system and your vestibular system. Your visual system provides visual input, proprioceptive system gives your joints positional sense in space and your vestibular system is part of the inner ear giving you sense of momentum, gravity and spatial awareness.
For example, walking on the beach on uneven sand and adapting gracefully is partly based on the effectiveness of your propriceptive system (and the muscles in your core and legs). If you have been sitting in a parked car while the car next to you pulls out, your inner ear is giving your brain feedback of equilibrium, gravity and space.
As we get older, we start to lose the mass of the muscles in our core and lower extremities which can lead to weakness. In addition, the 3 systems discussed above often start to lose effectiveness which can increase your risk of falling. Here are 3 exercises that you can easily perform in your home to improve your balance and lower extremity strength.
Be sure to check with your physical therapist before you attempt any exercises on your own. In addition, perform all of these exercises in front of a sturdy and stable surface.
1. Tandem Standing/Walking
Stand with one foot in front of the other. Hold this for up to 30 seconds. Repeat this 5-10x. You can add a challenge by closing your eyes or performing on an uneven surface (throw pillow).
As your abiity to hold this position improves, you can start to walk along an imaginary line, heel toe walking (tandem walking). Repeat for 10 steps, back and forth, for up to 4 laps. To add additional challenge, turn your head slowly to the left and right as you walk forward and backward.
2. Single Leg Standing
Stand on one leg for up to 30 seconds. Keep your eyes open. Perform in your bathroom so you have the countertop/sink to hold on to. To make it seem less like an exercise, perform morning and night while brushing your teeth. Perform up to 5x for each leg.
If performing with your eyes open is easy, try closing your eyes. If this gets easy, try standing on a throw pillow.
3. Side Walking (Karoke)
Stand in front of a kitchen counter top. Place one foot in front the other. Repeat with the other leg by placing behind the previous. Repeat this for 10 steps and return back to the start point.
If you are having difficulty coordinating this movement, perform side steps to each side and return back. Be sure to keep your knees straight and your toes pointed forward.
For additional strategies to improve your balance and strength, reach out to your local physical therapist. Here at Mana Physical Therapy, we strive to be your practitioner of choice regarding physical therapy care in the region.