Balance Exercises to Prepare Yourself for Icy or Unstable Surfaces

Summit physical therapist Cory Absey, PT, DPT, discusses balance exercises to help you stay steady on slippery or unstable surfaces.

If it’s winter in Minnesota, you can bet that ice and snow aren’t far behind. Icy walkways can present a danger to anyone. So, what’s the secret to walking safely on ice? According to Summit physical therapist Cory Absey, PT, DPT, having great balance is crucial to helping avoid winter slips and falls. Here are some balance exercises that can help.

“There is no good way to walk on ice,” Absey said. “If you can avoid walking on ice or another very slippery surface, that is the best thing to do.” The second-best idea if you need to walk on ice, according to Absey, is to invest a few dollars in cleats that you can attach to your shoes or boots.

Safety tips to avoid icy slips

“It all comes down to managing your center of mass,” Absey said. In other words, keep the bulk of your body weight right between your feet. Walking with small, shuffling steps — imitating a penguin — can help keep your body weight centered.

“Taking smaller steps with a wider stance will keep your center of mass better controlled,” Absey said. “Taking larger strides, where your weight is all on one foot, and then the other, puts your center of mass off to the side with each step.”

Another safety tip is to proceed slowly. Rushing on an icy surface greatly increases your fall risk. And if you do start to slip, having good balance can help you recover, saving yourself from a fall.

Balance exercises for unstable surfaces

Doing a few simple exercises every day can help you improve your balance. While you’re doing them, make sure to engage your core muscles and glutes. “That will give you the best opportunity to recover your balance if you have to,” Absey said.

Before you begin, make sure you are next to a sturdy surface you can grab if you need to. “Stand next to a wall, in a corner, or in a doorway. For many people, standing by the kitchen sink works well, because it’s a sturdy surface that is easy to grab,” Absey said.

Here are some balance exercise ideas:

  • Try standing in the tandem stance, with one leg in front of the other in a line.
  • Stand on one leg. “Research has shown that the most effective balance exercise is just to stand on one leg,” Absey said. “If you can stand on one leg for one minute — or 30 seconds if you are 70 years old or older — you are at a low risk of falling.”
  • Throughout your balance exercises, and throughout the day, engage your abdominal and glute muscles, which play important roles in your ability to balance and stay steady on unstable surfaces.

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