It's not just seniors and the frail elderly who worry about losing their balance. A diminished sense of balance is one of the top concerns I hear from women in their 50s and 60s. The sense that their balance isn't what it used to be, coupled with a diagnosis of low bone density leaves many women feeling vulnerable and fearful.
The good news is, unless you have inner ear problems or dizziness caused by your medications, your sense of balance can be improved at any age.
When I'm teaching balance exercises for seniors, the first balance exercise I have clients do is really a body awareness exercise. It's designed to help you get a feel for where your center of balance is and how far you can shift your center of balance over your base of support without losing balance.
The first step is to stand tall with feet parallel and hip width apart. Take a moment to center your weight perfectly over your feet, so the pressure is exactly the same on the right foot as on the left, and so the weight is evenly positioned between the heels of the feet and the balls of the feet.
In this first step you want to calm and center your energy so you are holding this position without swaying front to back or side to side.
Once you have found your stable center, I want you to shift your weight gently on to the balls of your feet, so your center of gravity comes forward and your heels feel like they are just about to come off the ground. Pay attention to how far forward you can shift without tipping over.
Next, shift your weight back so that your weight rests almost entirely on your heels. Your toes should feel like they're just about to peel up from the floor. How far back were you able to go?
Bring your weight back to center, and this time shift all your weight onto your right foot, while keeping the left foot just barely touching the floor. How far does your torso shift before your foot begins to lift off the floor?
Now shift all your weight to your left foot. Finally, with your weight shifted onto one foot, pick the other foot off the floor, so that you are balanced entirely on the single leg. What happens? (Hint: if you're like most people the ankle and knee of your supporting leg begin to twitch and shake, making you think you might fall.)
If you do this exercise in front of a mirror you'll have a good visual image to go with your physical sensations as you shift your center of gravity over your base of support. Developing an awareness of how your center of gravity moves in space is the first step toward improving your sense of balance.