Seniors Pilates Exercises for Balance

Pilates for Seniors: Balance

Acquiring and maintaining good balance is greatly beneficial for older adults as prevention for falls, injury, and loss of independence. Pilates and balance go hand in hand with its positive effects on strength and coordination. This decreases the fear of falling, which often leads to a reduction of movement and lack of mobility.

Balance is required in daily activities such as walking, getting up and down from a chair or the ground, picking up or carrying objects and catching oneself from a near fall. Numerous studies have shown that Pilates exercises can improve balance and gait with an effective increase in muscle strengthening and specific balance training.

Loss of Balance

Improving balance and coordination as we age is vital to one’s quality of life. Statistics show that after our 30’s and early 40’s both begin to decrease. The great news is that a lot can be done to improve balance, including practicing Pilates 2-3 times per week and incorporating mindful habits to your daily routine. For the majority of the aging population, a ‘bent forward posture’ results from the muscles of the spine and trunk weakening thus losing the ability to stabilize and protect. Muscle stiffness and imbalance, amongst other things, factor into a diagnosis of Osteoporosis.

Improving Balance

'Bent forward posture' with the fear of falling, which is prevalent amongst seniors, starts to limit ankle mobility where a step becomes a shuffle or a dragging of the feet. This leads to immobilization, stiffness, and actually more chances for falling.

Prevention is the key. There should be a focus on exercises to improve balance which includes strengthening the muscles of the spine and trunk for an upright posture as well as working on the lower body, especially the feet and ankles. For improvement in balance and coordination, specific balance training must be included in one’s exercise regime. Training balance in different body positions not only challenges the body but also results in improved balance, coordination and reaction time.

Featured Classes for Balance

Pilates Standing Exercises for Balance

Taking a Pilates practice from the floor to standing is a great way to link Pilates principles to everyday movement.

Standing Pilates is a weight-bearing form of exercise that strengthens bones by activating the muscles of the hips and legs. As a full-body workout, it is one of the best ways for seniors to improve their balance and proprioception (the ability to know where and how your body is oriented in the surrounding space). Standing Pilates incorporates shifting the weight of the body. Standing on one foot requires activation and strength through the trunk, legs, and hips, resulting in the ability to improve balance and gait. Improving Balance with Adrianne Crawford covers a Mat practice to prepare the body for the standing Pilates exercises that follow.

Calf Raises

This exercise provides stability and balance for standing and walking. For more of a challenge try one leg at a time.

Single Leg Lift

This Single-Leg Lift engages your core and thigh muscles which are needed to improve balance. For more of a challenge close your eyes or try without the support of a prop.

Pilates Seated Exercises for Balance

Chair Pilates is an excellent way for seniors to build the strength and agility needed for balance before going into an unassisted or full standing practice.

These chair exercises are effective and versatile working the whole body. Extension and back strengthening exercises for optimal posture along with strengthening the legs can all be performed effectively with a chair. Chair Pilates provides a stable foundation for one to work from and is a great gateway between the floor and full standing practice. Strength is built by utilizing the chair to aid in getting up and down from the floor or as the foundation of strengthening for standing balance work. Sherri Betz’s Mixed Equipment class is the perfect bridge of utilizing the chair and moving into standing balance exercises.

Single Leg Lift

This exercise engages your core and thigh muscles which will improve your balance. For more of a challenge close your eyes.

Arm Lift with Weights

This Single-Arm Lift will challenge your balance by forcing one side to stabilize while the other side is moving. Alternate sides with control.

Modifications for Seniors

There are numerous modifications seniors can implement into their daily lives as well as apply to classes. The use of props such as a dowel or broomstick can be held along the spine to encourage length and ideal posture during exercises or just as a reminder for daily use.

When practicing balancing on one leg one can use the wall or a chair for support and as your balance improves you can rely on it less. To encourage sitting up tall during Mat exercises add props such as pillows or sturdy books to elevate your trunk from your legs -- this will provide more ease to gain length in your torso. For additional modifications refer to videos Computer Slump Fix, and Can't Sit Up Straight.

Tips and Precautions

The following are some tips to incorporate for balance exercises in everyday life or in class:

  • For balancing, be near a wall or counter or use a sturdy prop
  • Remember to breathe
  • When balancing feel your whole foot connected to the floor
  • Use the concept of opposition - push down into the floor to go up through the body
  • Take your time to warm up and slow down for twisting movements
  • Use your eyes to focus on one point when balancing
  • Make sure the floor is clutter-free and make sure rugs are firmly attached to the floor
  • Wearing shoes with wider, rubber soles will also help you feel more stable when out and about during the day

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