Balance training is a crucial component of any exercise program as we get older. In the U.S., adults over the age of 65 visit the emergency room as a result of falling approximately every 18 seconds! (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008.) There is much you can do in your exercise program to improve your balance, thereby decreasing your risk of falls and injury. Certain activities, such as walking and strength training, assist in the overall development of balance and are good activities to take up as we get older. If you have already been doing both activities and are ready for more, you may be able to incorporate the most effective types of balancing exercises into your program, which involve both dynamic movement and agility. Dynamic balance exercises are those activities which involve both balancing and movement. These types of exercises are quite different from static balance activities, in which you stay in one spot (such as balancing on one leg without moving.) One caveat about dynamic balance exercise, though, is that it is important to master your static balance before progressing to activities which combine balancing with movement. The main reason is that the skill level, complexity, and risk are higher in dynamic balancing as compared to static balancing. However, one simple beginner’s dynamic balance exercise is the heel to toe walk. This exercise is safe for most people with a good basic level of balance. If you have already been practicing your static balance, it may be time to try this exercise. As with all exercises, remember to start simple and slowly increase the complexity. All movements should be slow in the beginning.
Heel to Toe Walks:
Find a clear area without obstacles, where you can take at least 15-20 steps without interruption. Position the heel of one foot just in front of the toes of the other foot. Your heel and toes should touch or almost touch. Choose a spot ahead of you and focus on it to keep you steady as you walk. Take a step. Put your heel just in front of the toe of your other foot. Repeat for 20 steps. This drill is much like you are walking on a line representing a tight rope. Make sure to start with relatively small steps and gradually increase your stride length. Eventually (once you have completely mastered this exercise) you can (with very slow and very small steps!) add in small, slight eye tracking movements in the direction of one shoulder and then the other, which adds complexity.