Balance naturally decreases with age due to changes in depth perception, muscle mass, reflexes, and coordination. The National Institute of Health reports that one in three people over 65 will experience a fall each year. The good news is that research on balance training suggests that practice can improve stability - both when standing (static balance) and walking (dynamic balance).
Try these three exercises to integrate your visual (eyes), vestibular (inner ear), and proprioceptive (feedback from muscles and joints) systems for more responsive balance.
Eye Scan Technique – Looking down when you walk, for fear of falling, tenses your body decreasing blood and energy flow. For greater trail safety, use this technique borrowed from race car drivers.
Just as you’d scan the road ahead when driving, allow your eyes to scan the path ahead. Keep your head level, eyes at the horizon, then lower your eyes to scan far to near, to far to near, to far to near ... and continue. Look around to enjoy your world then return to scanning. Feed your brain continuous trail data from changing perspectives. First practice standing, then while walking on flat sidewalks at slow speeds, then graduate to uneven terrain in different lighting conditions.
Uneven Hip Circles - Our cars have been engineered with independent suspension of tires for a smoother ride. Just as your shoulder can move separately of each other, ideally your hips can respond independently to trail conditions, like stepping off a curb.
Take a wide stance and imagine you are circling a holla hoop around your abdomen. As you circle, turn your torso to face towards one leg then the other. Circle in both directions. Next, place one foot on a floor pillow and repeat the circling and turning. Before switching legs take a moment to notice the sensations. To challenge yourself further, if you feel safe, close your eyes and repeat the circling exercises. With eyes closed you cultivate channels of proprioceptive awareness from muscles and joints. Notice what you feel.
Ankle Circles - Flat cement sidewalks are a modern convenience, but we have lost awareness of the ground. Ankles and feet stiffen and fluid can more easily accumulate in our legs. Our walk looks very old. Try this for yourself and notice it’s harder to walk and less energizing.
Stand safely on one leg and point the toe of the other foot to the ground. Circle your higher ankle in one direction then the other. Let your hips get into the action by taking the circle all the way up the leg to the knee and hip. Stop and notice the sensations then switch legs. When walking, practice on uneven terrain to cultivate foot, ankle, and hip flexibility for a more flexible and independent you.