As you get older, your muscular strength naturally begins to deteriorate. When coupled with prolonged periods of inactivity, your balance suffers. Eventually, you might find yourself not moving around as much because it’s difficult, and you see less of your friends and family.
The combined effects of declining physical fitness, strength, and mental wellbeing can drag you into a downward spiral; and significantly increase your risk of having a fall.
A fall or a series of falls might result in hip fractures, broken bones and disability. These rather nasty and crippling complications then further contribute towards a less active social life and a general decline in health in the over 65s.
On a much more positive note, these health risks and complications can be reduced and even reversed if you maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.
What can you do to improve your muscular strength and balance while being socially active? Here are some of the most effective classes and exercises to try.
Yoga or Pilates Classes
You may have heard that it’s important to have a strong ‘core’. Your core muscles are responsible for keeping you steady when you stand still, walk or run. Yoga and Pilates can be great ways to improve your core strength and balance. They’re also great places to meet new people and make new friends.
After a few weeks and when you’ve learned the main exercises, you will start to feel stronger in both your mind and your body. If you’re concerned about COVID-19, you could search for an online class. Do make sure the class is run by a qualified yoga instructor and have a chat with your GP before starting.
While you might struggle to picture yourself meditating at sunset, Tai Chi can work wonders for your overall balance, health and mental wellbeing.
Stanford University reports that people over the age of 70, who regularly practice Tai Chi, have considerably fewer falls than those who take a more conventional approach to exercise.
A good teacher used to teaching beginners can take you through the exercises and movements that focus on improving your stability. After a while, you can practice at home to keep up with your classmates.
What Exercises are Good for Balance?
After a few weeks of doing these exercises, you should start to notice the benefits, and it will feel great to be able to do what you used to do without as much effort and concentration. Follow the steps outlined for each exercise.
Balancing on One Leg
1. Begin supporting yourself by holding onto something solid such as the back of your sofa or chair. Or face a wall with your arms out and use your fingertips to hold yourself steady.
2. Raise one leg in the air to just below knee height; or to whatever level you can maintain which puts you just out of your comfort zone.
3. Hold for between 5 and 10 seconds. Use your hands to support yourself if you start to lose your balance. Don’t worry if you can’t hold it for long when you first start doing this; you will get better with practice.
4. Repeat 5-10 times and then change to your other leg.
Like with all exercises, to get better, your exercise routine must be progressive. Increase the hold time by a few seconds each week and try to balance yourself without using the support of your hands. By sticking to a progressive routine, you should eventually be able to hold each leg in the air without much effort for 30 seconds or so.
Jasmin from Pmac Fitness told us: "One of the main things you can do to improve your muscular strength and balance is doing single leg exercises e.g. lunges, reverse lunges, single leg deadlifts, and bulgarian split squats. Start with bodyweight because you might find this more challenging that you think and then incorporate weights once you've built up some strength. You might find that one side of your body is weaker than the other or more imbalanced so doing single leg work will help even it out."
Combine a Cardio and Balance Workout with Step-Ups
This simple but effective exercise works on your hip stability and strengthens your legs and glutes. It can be a nice addition to your exercise routine, and it combines cardio with balance work. You could use the steps in your house or an exercise step if you have one.
If your balance is poor, make sure there’s something to hold onto while you do it, such as a bannister or railing.
- Slowly step up with one leg, and then bring your other leg up next to it.
- Then, slowly reverse the movement to go back to the floor.
- Repeat this a few times, rest, and then try a few more sets.
Do the steps slowly. If you’re feeling up to it and want to raise your heart rate a little, you could do more steps and gradually build this up to a short 10-minute workout. You could also try it on a higher step.
For this exercise, imagine you’re trying to walk across a tightrope. You could start by walking across your hallway and use the wall for balance if you need to.
- Looking ahead while maintaining a neutral spine, place one heel in front of your other foot, and just after your toes.
- Repeat this with your other foot, so that you’re taking steps forward.
- Do this a few times, and for around 5-10 steps per set.
If you find this difficult when you first try it, hold onto something. After some time, try doing it without supporting yourself. To make the exercise more challenging, try doing it backwards. Or do it backwards with your eyes closed!
Exercises like squats and lunges are fantastic for improving your strength and balance.
When performing squats, make sure that your heels do not go over your toes as this puts strain on your knees (the same applies to lunges). Try to keep your spine neutral without arching it too much; also don’t go too low if it’s difficult; this is something you can work towards. With squats and lunges you can use your arms to help with balance.
It’s Time to Get Back to Your Old Self
If you find the idea of going to a class a little daunting, or you’re struggling to get yourself motivated; just imagine a fitter, stronger and happier you, who can now do what they used to be able to do.