Better Balance for Seniors With Water Exercise
Better Balance Begins in the Pool.
by Laurie Denomme
Unfortunately, fear drives many of our actions. People often limit their potential because they are afraid they won’t be good enough. Or they wonder what people might think. Or maybe they’re afraid of getting hurt.
Let’s talk for a minute about body and movement limitations. A previous fall, injury or surgery, combined with natural aging factors, contribute to fear of falling. Do you look down when you’re walking in unknown territory? Do you shuffle your feet to steady yourself with every step? The body looks for way to protect and prevent injury. Who can blame the body for that?
The problem is that balance issues won’t get better if you don’t work on your balance. The good news? There is a safe and effective place to practice. You can crush your fear of falling by taking your balance program from dry land to the pool.
Here to Guide You: Laurie Denomme, Kinesiologist, Aquatics Instructor
Laurie Denomme is an award-winning international fitness educator. She’s helped thousands of people of all ages, experience, and fitness levels move and feel better. A kinesiologist and Fellow of Applied Functional Science through the Gray Institute, Laurie has more than 25 years of experience in aquatics. She serves as a contributor and subject matter expert for professional training manuals and writes for top consumer magazines, including Self and Weight Watchers.
Water, Water, Everywhere
Buoyancy and resistance make water a highly desirable place to train and improve balance. Water hugs your body, supports weak muscles and helps you stand upright, steady on your feet. Even non-swimmers can feel comfort standing in shallow water and holding the pool edge or pool noodle for support. When the body feels a sense of safety, the mind and muscles begin to relax. The body is free to move in a range that might feel too risky on land. This ability to move in a bigger range allows the muscles to gain the flexibility they need for better balance.
Engage the Senses
Better balance begins by stimulating the body’s sensory system in natural ways. Standing on one leg and holding still will help improve muscular endurance, but it does not effectively improve balance. Balance is our body’s ability to remain upright and steady. It does this by constantly feeling for the changes in body position and responds by engaging the muscles. Try it for yourself. Stand on one leg. Notice a constant wiggle of the foot, ankle, hip and probably a little wave of the hands to help steady the body.
Balance Begins with Mobility
To improve your balance, you need adequate mobility. The muscles require the ability to wiggle and stretch to gather information about where joints are in relationship to one another. Are you ready? It’s time to stop standing around and hoping to beat your record for a one leg stand. Start stretching your legs in natural ways and you’ll be on the fast track to crushing your fear of falling.
Single Leg Balance Reach
One of my favorite pool exercises is a 6-directional single-leg balance reach. Each joint in the body has multi-dimensional capabilities, which is why my training uses a unique, 6-directional movement formula. This gives the body comfortable, pain-free movement in all natural directions — forward, backward, right, left, turn right and turn left. I like to think of it as: Front to back, right to left and right and left rotation.
Try it on land or in the pool: 6-directional single leg balance reach.
Front to Back
Moving in a range that feels good, stand on one foot and reach the other, front to back. To steady yourself reach the hands in the direction opposite to the moving leg. Soften the knee and sink into the hips. Feel the gentle stretch on the standing leg. Repeat 3 to 5 times on both sides of the body.
Right and Left
Next, reach right and left. Allow the body to tip to the side and then return to start position, shoulders over hips. You might find a small range feels best at first. As you practice this side to side reaching it will feel more natural and allow for deeper stretching. Repeat 3 to 5 times on both sides of the body.
Right and Left Rotation
Finally, right and left rotation. Hands just below the surface moving opposite the leg. Reach the suspended foot clockwise and counterclockwise. If a straight leg is too difficult, bend the moving leg, making a knee swing. Repeat 3 to 5 times on both sides of the body.
As you do the single leg balance, reach keep the standing knee soft and feel the movement at the hip and ankles. If you notice any pain or discomfort at the knee, make the move smaller and gradually increase the range. Always seek to find the range that feels best. The body will thrive in an environment where it feels safe and successful.
Stay tuned in a few weeks for part two of balance training, where I’ll explain why having the ability to control motion is key to being able to stand on one leg for a longer duration.