“One moment I was climbing up the stairs, and the next moment I was rolling back down them!” My client shook his head back and forth. “I don’t understand, I can stand on one foot for over a minute. I thought that meant I had good balance.”

“Standing on one foot is a great feat of balance, Joe. In reality though, it is not too practical.” Joe was perplexed.
Balance in daily life is often dynamic rather than static. Therefore, it should be trained dynamically. Static exercises such as holding a narrow base of support are indeed useful, but should fall secondary in focus to skills such as navigating uneven terrain, stepping over objects, and stepping onto and off of objects.

Three practical balance skills:

Navigate uneven terrain: This is useful for the times when one must change surfaces as they are walking. Examples include transitioning from hard flooring to carpet, from sidewalk to grass, or while walking on gravel or wooded paths. This can be practiced in the gym setting by walking across soft foam pads such as Airex® balance pads. Ask a Certified Personal Trainer like those at the Duke Center for Living for assistance on this one.

Step over an object: Sometimes it rains and there are small puddles one must step over. Sometimes the house gets a bit messy, or the dog gets in the way, and one has to step over clutter in the home. It is important to be able to pick up your feet and transfer weight while stepping over an object. Practice at the gym by lining up a few yoga blocks next to each other and stepping over them. Stand near something to hold onto for safety.

Step onto and then off of an object: Sidewalk curbs and flights of stairs can be daunting obstacles for older adults. Improve your stepping skills by practicing on a hard, stable bench, anywhere from 3 – 12″ high. Step onto it, and then step off of the other side. Focus on lifting your feet high. Stand near something to hold onto for safety.

Practice these three skills routinely to improve self-confidence related to balance. It sure helped out my client, Joe. After falling three times in the previous year, he recently reported with excitement that he had not taken a tumble in over six months. That’s progress!

By Jared Rogers
Exercise Physiologist and Personal Trainer
Duke Center For Living at Fearrington