Building Balance & Strength:
As we age it is especially important to remind ourselves to breathe, notice exactly what we’re doing, and how it feels to do what we’re doing.
As we get older it is more difficult, and often more inconvenient, to fit a fitness program into our lives than it was when we were younger. It is also more important than ever to do so. Like Ashton Applewhite says in “This Chair Rocks” we must all be old people in training (OPTs). You have to train to be a healthy old person.
I’ll show you some simple exercises, or movements (because these are things we do everyday anyway) that can help raise your awareness about how you move, what’s slowing down or getting less functional, and how you might address that in a way that’s right for you.
I’ll go from top-to-bottom, and start with
the top and the bottom.
TOP -Neck Rotations and Side-Bending.
A strong, flexible neck can help you stay balanced, by working with your eyes to give you input. As importantly, if you can turn hour head without having to turn your entire body, you are more likely to maintain your balance.
These movements can be done by anyone. If you have a medical condition that limits your movements or range of motion, you can use these to make yourself aware of what your range is. Don’t hurt yourself but, by the same token, don’t let a diagnosis make you anticipate pain where it may not be. I say this because I sometimes do exactly that for my knees. Try gently and let yourself notice.
1- Neck Rotations:
- With your torso facing front, turn only your head to one side as far as it will go.
- Maintaining your head position, make sure you’re breathing. Notice how that feels.
- Then turn only your eyes towards the front.
- Pause and breathe,notice.
- Turn your eyes toward the back and see if you can get an ⁿth more rotation in your neck.
- Breathe and notice.
- Slowly return your head to face front/neutral, let it un-kink.
- Breathe, notice how that feels.
- Repeat to the other side.
2- Neck Side-Bends:
- With your torso and your head facing front, try to reach the side of your head to the same shoulder.
- Only move your head. Keep both shoulders down.
- Breathe. Notice how it feels.
- You might want to carefully make small nods up and down.
- You might want to carefully make small shakes side to side.
- Breathe, notice.
- Slowly return to center/neutral, let everything un-kink.
- Breathe, then repeat to the other side.
- You may find it helpful to do this one in front of a mirror, as visual cues can help help
you recognize what you’re doing.
BOTTOM – Heel Raises and Ankle Rotations
Raising up onto your tippy-toes helps keep the lower leg strong. Strong lower-leg muscles make it less likely you’ll have foot numbness (parasthesia) because you’ll have better circulation. Strong, flexible ankles are important to help with standing and walking balance. They are also important in sending the rest of your system cues about where you are in space -proprioception.
3- Heel Raises:
- Standing on a flat floor or on a step, raise up onto your toes.
- If you choose to hold on to a chair, a rail or a wall, avoid gripping with your hand.
- Actually lift yourself using your middle, with help from your calf muscles.
- Avoid leaning back or frontwards.
- Breathe, notice.
- Slowly, with control, come back down to flat.
- If you’re on a step you can take your heel lower to get a stretch, but make sure not to lean forward or back.
- Feel free to repeat these multiple times, at a pace that feels good to you.
- If you’re strong already, try doing this one foot at a time, holding the position to a point of challenge.
4- Ankle Rotations:
- Standing, sitting or lying down, start by flexing and extending your ankle.
- If your feet remain on the floor, this might feel like you’re rocking your feet. Do either one foot at a time or both, depending on your position.
- Breathe and notice how the movement feels.
- Next roll your whole foot from the toes to one side, across the heel, along the other side, and back to the toes.
- Do this either in the air or with some of your weight on the foot, relying on your own comfort.
- Breathe, notice how the movement feels.
- Rotate the other way.
You might have noticed a theme here – “Breathe and Notice.”
We’ve been in these bodies so long we take a lot for granted. If we don’t breathe and notice we wake up one day and do notice that everything is different. And not always good different!
You asked for something simple, so don’t complain that these are baby exercises. I need them and I do them. When I don’t, I know it!
This is good for now, though I’m anxious to give you more. Until next time.
Oh Yeah! Please leave questions and comments.
And while you’re waiting, this is an excellent short video that shows a helpful model of how the actions of our joints can affect how effectively we move.