It is never too late to begin a programme of exercise and the benefits can be great. Improving your strength, stamina and balance will not only make you feel better, you may lose weight and lessen your risk of having a fall due to poor balance.
Balance is affected by several factors; decreased vision, weak hips and legs, poor posture and general weakness. Some prescription drugs can have side-effects that affect balance. Low blood pressure and not eating properly can also lead to light-headedness, making us more susceptible to a fall. That is why beginning a balance programme which incorporates strength training, endurance training and balance training is essential in maintaining and promoting good balance and overall health and wellbeing. It’s best to approach beginning exercise gently,5 minutes a day is enough to make a difference and you can increase this over time as your strength and stamina improve.
A study published in the journal Age in 2014 trained and tested a group of 24 people aged between 91 and 96 for 12 weeks. One group of 11 trained twice a week, carrying out vigorous exercises for strength and to improve balance. The 13 others did 30 minutes of far less strenuous mobility training, including gentle stretching and flexibility exercises. At the end of the experiment, the first group showed a significant improvement in walking speed, hip and knee flexibility. Their muscle mass had increased, they found it easier to get out of their chairs and they were less likely to fall over.
The group that did less strenuous exercise showed far less progress. Professor Mikel Izquierdo, who led the research, said physical inactivity causes muscle loss and frailty. He said: ‘The training raised their functional capacity, lowered the risk of falls, and improved muscle power. To get all of the benefits of physical activity, try all four types of exercise; endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility.
This will give you the maximum benefit. Just make sure that you never exercise when you feel unwell, have a fever or swollen joints. It is also always very important to speak with your doctor before you begin a new exercise regime, especially if you have underlying health problems that could be exacerbated by undertaking a sudden change in your activity levels.
You can do balance exercises almost anytime, anywhere, and as often as you like, as long as you have something sturdy nearby to hold on to if you become unsteady. In the beginning, using a chair or the wall for support will help you work on your balance safely. It’s a great starting point for someone new to exercise as they are usually simple and low impact and will be most important in helping you reduce your risk of losing balance and falling.