Simple Breathwork and Balance Exercises for Fall PreventionMay 01, 2023
“I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!”
Do you remember that line from a 1980’s advertisement for a medical alarm call system, LifeCall? The elderly woman in the ad had fallen in the bathroom and was lucky enough to have a LifeCall pendant she could activate to reach a dispatcher who would send help.
“I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” became a catchphrase of the 80s and 90s parodied by ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, appearing on T-shirts and television episodes of The Golden Girls, Family Matters and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
As much as that phrase used to make us laugh, as my mother got older and suffered from arthritic hips and knees, I worried about the possibility of her falling. She lived alone and the thought of her lying on the floor for hours with no help was a big concern. We could have used a LifeCall system, but they were out of business by the time my mother could have used the service.
The reality is that as we age, our ability to balance wanes. Often people are doing less exercise resulting in loss of muscles which contributes to poor balance. Medications too can cause dizziness, adding to any balance issues. There are many factors that can contribute to poor balance and THAT can lead to an increase in falls.
When people don’t feel stable and are concerned about falling, they are less likely to exercise and that makes the problem even worse.
The good news is that balance can be improved with simple exercises you can do at home.
Let’s understand a little more about balance.
The body and mind work together when we move. The brain communicates to different muscles using nerves and chemical signaling. The muscles, ligaments and bones work together to make our body move the way we want it to move, adjusting as needed to accommodate our movements.
The brain uses input from the senses to help maintain balance. The eyes relay information about what’s in the physical surroundings. The ears have a beautiful balance system to let the brain know how we are positioned in the world - thank you, gravity!
When there’s a problem in any of these systems, natural balance can be thrown off, making you feel more unstable and more susceptible to falls.
Fortunately, there are several simple exercises you can do to help maintain and improve balance.
10 Simple Exercises to Improve Balance
Before you try these exercises, here are some guidelines to keep in mind.
Start slowly and be kind and patient with yourself.
For most exercises your feet should be firmly planted on the floor, with even pressure on the balls and heels of your feet.
Think about making yourself taller, making your spine long. Roll the shoulders down and back. Tuck the chin slightly.
Generally you want to have your head up looking straight ahead. It may help for some exercises to focus the eyes on a spot straight ahead of you, or let the eyes gaze down to a spot on the floor, keeping the head facing forward.
For additional support, use a chair, wall, counter top, walker, cane or another sturdy surface. If using a chair, it’s helpful to place it on a yoga mat or some other non-slip surface.
Should you feel pain or dizziness during any of the exercises, take a break and only continue if the pain and dizziness subside. If you regularly feel pain or dizziness or it doesn’t subside after exercising, talk to your doctor.
Remember to breathe! Generally you will inhale on the effort and exhale on the release. If you are holding a position, breathe while you hold.
If you’re not sure where to start, talk to your doctor about doing a balance evaluation. A licensed professional can help you figure out what aspects of balance may be challenging for you and identify which exercise may be most beneficial.
1. HEAD TO TOE BREATHING
Head to toe breathing exercises can help you feel more stable in the core of the body. In a standing position, stand tall with feet about hip-width apart, inhale, imagining the breath coming in through the crown of your head and into the core of the body. As you exhale, imagine the breath moving down the legs and into the earth, like the roots of a tree. Inhale again up from the earth, up through the legs and into the core of the body. As you exhale, imagine the breath moving up through your body, through the neck and out through the crown of the head. Repeat several times, each time imagining those roots getting stronger while the body is lengthening. See this video for a demonstration.
2. BE A TREE
Holding on to a chair or wall for balance, looking straight ahead or picking a spot on the floor, transfer your weight to your right foot. With your left knee pointing towards the left, let your left heel rest against the right ankle. Use head to toe breathing to imagine sending roots into the earth while the tree grows taller. Repeat with the other foot. As your balance improves, you can challenge yourself by letting the foot rest against the right calf, or the inside of the right thigh and holding on with one hand … or no hands! Check out this video for a demonstration.
3. THE PENDULUM
Start by standing with your feet hip-width distance apart, and make sure they are firmly planted on the floor. Using a chair, wall or other support, inhale while slowly lifting your left leg out to the side, just enough to be a little bit challenging for you. Exhale and inhale slowly while you hold the leg, then exhale as you lower the leg. Repeat on your opposite leg and do five repetitions on each side. See this video for a demonstration.
4. TOE TAPS
Start by standing in front of a staircase or use a sturdy step stool instead. Use a wall or cane for support if needed. Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart. Transfer your weight to the right leg. While inhaling, slowly lift your left leg and tap the top of the stair or step. Exhale as you lower the leg. Repeat 15 to 20 times and then switch legs. As your balance improves, you can step up on the stair instead of just tapping it if you feel comfortable doing so. See how to do this exercise here.
5. HEAD ROTATIONS
Head rotations are especially helpful if vision issues are contributing to poor balance. Stand tall with your feet hip-width distance apart. As you inhale, gently turn your head to the right, eyes looking as far right as possible. Exhale and move back to neutral. Repeat turning the head to the left and eyes looking as far left as possible. Next inhale as you tilt your head up and look straight up, exhaling as you come back to neutral. Repeat looking down. If you start to feel dizzy, stop or move your head more slowly. If the dizziness doesn’t dissipate, stop the exercise and try again later. If you feel a little wobbly doing this exercise standing up, try doing it while sitting down. Check out this video for a demonstration.
6. KARATE KID
Stand tall with your feet directly under your hips using a chair or wall for support. Bending the left knee, inhale as you lift your left foot off the floor and focus on trying not to lean to the right. Instead, keep your weight on your right leg while still maintaining an upright position. Keep your left foot raised as you exhale and inhale again, then exhale as you lower the foot to the floor. Repeat with your right foot and do five leg raises on each side. As your balance improves, try using just one hand for support, or none. See how to do this movement here.
7. CLOCK ARMS
This is helpful if you have poor balance because of vision problems. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold on to a chair with your right hand. Imagine a horizontal clock with you in the middle. Imagine 12 o’clock in front of you, 3 o’clock to your right, 9 o’clock to your left, and 6 o’clock behind you.
Slowly shift your weight to your right foot, lifting your left foot off the floor. Use your left hand to point to 12 o’clock, then to 9 o’clock, and then to 6 o’clock. Repeat on the left side, pointing to 12, 3, and 6 o’clock.If you find you can’t reach all the way back to 6 o’clock, that's ok, just try to get as close as possible. See how to do this exercise here.
8. BODY SWAY
This exercise involves movement that can be challenging. You may want to have another person or a chair nearby for support.
Begin by standing tall with your feet hip-width distance apart. Keeping your feet firmly planted and your body straight, gently lean slightly forward. Lean slowly to the right, back, and left, moving your body clockwise in a circular manner. Come back to neutral then repeat in the opposite direction.
You can hold your hands out like an airplane to make balancing easier. If you need more of a challenge, bring your feet closer together. Check out this video for a demonstration.
Stand with your feet together. Keeping your arms loosely at your sides and looking straight ahead, step your right foot to the right so your feet are about hip-distance apart. Lift your left leg and slowly cross it in front of your right leg. Place your left foot firmly on the floor. Then, step your right foot out to the right again. Keep moving like this in a straight line across the room. Repeat in the opposite direction, starting with the left foot stepping out and crossing the right foot in front. See how to do this movement here.
10. RISING CHAIR
With this exercise, you’ll work on standing up from and sitting down to a chair. Start by sitting in front of a chair. Inhale and slowly raise yourself up to a standing position. Exhale then inhale as you lower yourself back down to sitting. Repeat 10 times. You may need extra support at the beginning, but you should work towards sitting and standing without support. Check out this video for a demonstration.
With these balance exercises, you can build strength and develop good balance.
Incorporate these balance exercises into your daily life and exercise routine for better mobility.
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- All information in this post is based on my personal experiences. Please discuss any changes to your diet with your healthcare team. No information in this article is meant to replace medical advice. Please read my Terms and Conditions.