Elderly man

Many adults find that their balance deteriorates as they get older and they become fearful of falling.

The body systems that contribute to balance and mobility do change with age, but growing older doesn’t necessary mean becoming weaker or less able to do things that require good balance.

There are lots of things that contribute to your ability to balance when you are on your feet and moving around. We are provided with constant information about the environment and our movements from our eyesight, the balance mechanism in our inner ear and the system that tells us where we are in relation to other objects (somatosensory system).

Ageing can affect how well those systems work independently but can also impact on how well these systems interact with each other. For example, a 67-year-old man who usually runs twice a week finds that since his cataract has worsened he has become unsteady on his feet. He is strong, fit and mobile but not being able to see clearly has impacted on his balance as the visual information is less accurate and therefore his brain has to rely on the other two systems to maintain balance. It’s like standing with your eyes closed … try it for yourself and you’ll see how much harder it it!

Feeling unsteady on your feet can really knock your confidence and you may find yourself avoiding activities that feel more challenging. Unfortunately, this can make the problem worse as you may then also lose some strength and flexibility, which are also factors which contribute to your ability to balance. It’s a vicious cycle.

Muscle weakness is a common factor contributing to lose of balance, so here are a few examples of the kind of exercises that might be recommended to you.

When you first start, use a chair or bannister for support and as you get stronger and more confident you can gradually reduce the support you need for each exercise. Repeat each exercise 8 – 10 times.

Leg liftStrengthening exercise for balance

Keep your knee straight and lift your leg on the side, keeping your toes pointing forwards.

High knee marching

Balance and strengthening exercise

Bend your knee and lift your thigh towards your chest, lower again and repeat with your other leg. Repeat

Heel and toe raisers
Rocking exercises to improve balance

First push up onto tiptoes, lifting your heels up off the floor. Lower again and lift your toes up off the floor.

Sit to stand

stand up from sitting for strength

Perch on the edge of a chair. Lean forwards bending your hips until your nose is over your toes. Push through your heels to stand up. Lower again slowly, bending at the hips and pushing your bottom back behind you.

Tips: Initially you can use your arms to help but as you get stronger try to stand up without using your hands.

Take home message …

There are lots of factors that may contribute to an impaired ability to balance, which can result in a fall.

Strengthening exercises are often recommended but this won’t be effective if your balance problem isn’t due to muscle weakness. This is why a thorough assessment is vital to establish which system (or systems) need to be retrained.

A specialist falls physiotherapist will be able to help you work out which systems are affecting your balance and improve them with an individualised, targeted programme.

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions at all,

The Physiofit Team!