Now that you are avoiding the most common balance retraining pitfalls, I would like to share with you my 6 novel ways of helping people improving their balance.
The main principle of doing this right is always start with a level you can achieve with minimal difficulty. From here, you can challenge the parameters of speed, load, attentional demands, movement complexity and availability of environmental support.
So here are 6 novel ways (in no particular order) to train your balance and why:
#1 Table tennis
My favourite physical activity for elders, because you can totally grade the playing experience here. You can be predictable or unpredictable in your play, and it is low impact but high intensity. Hand eye coordination, depth perception and reflexes are trained here, without direct focus on balancing which should activate the right pathways.
#2 Kerb stepping
Ever watched Singing in the Rain? Remember Gene Kelly and his tap dance routine? Well, you can do exactly that in your neighbourhood and practise stepping up and down along the kerb and while it may look simple, it is very helpful for building explosive ankle and knee extensor strength that we need to prevent ourselves from falling, and involves both going in the forward and backward directions. Just beware of cars and dog poo.
#3 Stepping onto a travelator
A travelator is the flat version of the escalator, found at many major shopping centres and airports. While the belt is predictably moving, it can be difficult for those with weak or reduced ankle reflexes to be able to stand on a moving belt. But why? Well, it’s because there are times when we lose our footing and it gets moved slightly from where we may predict it to be, like walking on a slippery floor or on wet pavement. Doing this activity enables you to plan your step initially, and over time this should get easier as your cerebellum starts to predict what your body needs to do, thereby preparing you for conditions where it is less predictable.
#4 Walking along the corridor in dim light
We test our patients standing with their eyes closed, but hardly anyone moves this way. Much more realistic, and less of a dual task, is to walk around in dim places with sensory information around to tune into. As our senses shift away from vision, our perception of sound and proprioception increases to substitute for it. This is a highly functional skill that many people with balance difficulties often avoid because it’s too frightening, yet so necessary.
#5 Jogging or walking on the beach
The beach is a great place to exercise without feeling like it’s exercise. Walking barefoot in the sand is highly sensory and it works on the small foot muscles that we use to give our body orientation and movement perception in each millisecond. Jogging adds load to those foot muscles which will enable them to exercise more thoroughly with the plantar fascia that supports the arches of the foot. Just watch out for rubbish and washed up jellyfish!
#6 Standing on two teatowels
Place one foot on a teatowel and the other foot on another. Try and slide around the house, twist on the spot and slide one foot in front of or around the other. This type of exercise really engages the core muscles, and teaches you how to reverse movements and irons out asymmetries more easily, because for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It really focuses on motor control and co-activation of weight bearing muscles for stability. It’s also a great one to do to clean up the floors at the same time!
Author: Keegan Bow