How Can I Improve My Balance?

Q: With winter here, I’m worried about slipping on snow or ice. Do you have any exercises I could do to improve my balance?

A: Falling on a slippery surface is a common fear and while some exercises alone can’t prevent a fall, you can improve your overall balance.

Our balance declines as we age – our reflexes are a bit slower; hips and legs weaken, making it more difficult to walk; or poor vision makes it more difficult to see obstacles in our path. Bones and muscles also are weaker as we age, so a fall can lead to injury.

Here are some simple exercises you can do to improve your overall balance:

  • Feet together stance: Hold onto a back of chair as needed, placing both of your feet as close together as you can. Try letting go and maintain your balance. You may feel like you are waving in the wind.
  • Single limb stance: Hold on to the back of a chair with two hands and balance on one leg. Maintain the center of gravity over your ankles. Start out by trying to balance for a few seconds on each foot and eventually work up to a minute. As you become more comfortable, hold on with one hand and then try doing the exercise without holding on.
  • Clock reach: Hold on to a chair with your right hand. Lift your left leg and raise your left arm straight above your head (the 12 o’clock position). Then lower the arm down to the 9 and then 6 o’clock positions. Move the arm up or down in the motion comfortable for your arm. After you’re done on the left side, switch to your right for 3 and 6 o’clock.
  • Grapevine: This isn’t the dance move, but something similar. Walk several steps in one direction and then turn around and walk back. If you feel a bit uneasy, do it along your kitchen counter so you can hold on to that for support.
  • Tandem stance: Initially do this with support on a chair or counter, take one step forward with your left foot placing in  front of the right foot (like being on a tight rope) and hold for 10 seconds before returning your foot to the starting position. Next, step ahead with your right and again hold for 10 seconds. Gradually increase the time you hold or decrease support of chair or counter

Doing one of these exercises every day will improve your overall balance. Try to do this with dimmer lighting and with support to further challenge your balance for night time or gray day needs. Also, try to squeeze in some cardiovascular activity every day too, such as walking, which strengthens your bones and muscles.

Improving your balance and keeping an eye out for slick spots are two things you can do to help avoid slipping and falling outside this winter.

By Ginger Heus, physical therapist, ThedaCare Orthopedics Plus rehabilitation, Neenah.