by Kate Maliha, MA (HKin)
If you’re like most people, you know the dangers of falling. There are lots of fun ways to add balance-improving activities into your exercise routine by incorporating the use of balls for agility. “Agility” refers to the ability to move one’s limbs rapidly in order to recover from a disruption to balance. In other words, every move that we take changes our body’s position and balance, thus requiring agility. Some aspects of agility include hand-eye coordination, eye-foot coordination, dynamic (moving) balance, standing and leaning balance, and reaction time. A study by Tatjana Bulat and colleagues (2007) examined how agility and other exercise training exercises improved balance in community-dwelling older adults with an average age of 78 years. The study found that those who completed the exercise program showed improvement in all measurements of balance, and most notably reaction, speed, and the ability to control direction. The program focus began with standing stability exercises such as small squats and tug of war exercises, and progressed to ball exercises including passing, bouncing, and kicking a ball. While both genders tend to enjoy these types of exercises, men might particularly find the challenges of learning new sports skills to be appealing (Maliha, 2010).
Here are two simple ball challenges from the study program that you can incorporate into your current exercise routine:
Ball Passes/Weight Shifting: Using a medium sized ball such as a soccer ball, use two hands to pass the ball back and forth to a partner, reaching and passing to the left, and then reaching and passing to the right. Next, add on weight shifts with each pass, shifting your hips to the right when passing to the right, and then when passing to the left. If you have any type of ball that bounces, you can also add on a bounce as you pass the ball to train your depth perception.
Additional Challenge: Look over your shoulder each time you pass the ball
Soccer Ball Kicks: Once you have mastered the ball exercises with weight shifting, you might be ready to pass the ball with your feet by kicking back and forth. First kick to the right, and use your feet to pass the ball to your left and kick to your partner again. As you master this drill, you can speed up your movements a touch.
Additional Challenge: Add a metronome or music and following the set timing with each kick. You can play around with the tempo and speed as you develop your skills.
Kate Maliha, MA (HKin) has a Master’s degree in Human Kinetics and has conducted aging research at the University of British Columbia. She is the owner of Love Your Age, a fitness company specializing in the exercise needs of seniors.