It’s true what they say: life is a balancing act of epic proportions. And this doesn’t just apply to striking a healthy equilibrium in our work, relationships, and diet, but also standing strong on our own two feet.
That’s right—we’re talking about the kind of balance that makes gymnasts elite athletes, and helps the rest of us maintain a healthy, fit, and mobile body late into adulthood. The benefits of balance are manifold, covering everything from better posture to improved memory and spatial cognition.
The Importance of Balance As We Age
Especially for the aging population, balance becomes more and more vital as vision, coordination, and strength start to decline. Falling becomes a serious consideration as older people are more susceptible to injuries. The CDC reports that approximately 3 million seniors visit the emergency room every year to be treated for falls.
But all hope is not lost; in fact, there’s plenty of good news for those who want to minimize this threat. The key is to progressively include balance exercises into your daily routine, so you can actually grow closer to your body as you age! Here are some activities you can try to boost your balance.
Enroll in a Pilates or Yoga Class
German exercise icon Joseph Pilates said, “A man is as young as his spinal column.” What did he mean by this? Find out by enrolling in a beginner pilates class, which focuses equally on balance, flexibility, and body strength training. Pilates was created to cater to all levels of participants, with a honed focus on kinesiological correctness.
Then, of course, there’s yoga. Like pilates, there are many different kinds of yoga out there, but a basic Hatha class should be enough to get you on the right path to establishing a strong mind-body connection. As you progress, you can move onto Vinyasa flow, or some of the more challenging pilates courses.
Stand on One Foot
This exercise doesn’t involve driving anywhere or paying membership fees, and you can literally do it in the time it takes the kettle to boil. If you have the balance to stand on one foot without support from a chair or doorway, slowly bend your knee and lift one leg from the ground. From here, try to hold your balance for at least half a minute. Now switch legs and repeat.
Now, you’re going to do this again, but keeping your eyes closed for as long as possible. Aim for 30 seconds. Note: for this part of the exercise, it is advised to stand in a doorway or near a structure that you can use to catch yourself should you fall. Perform this exercise at least once per day, and you should begin to notice a welcome improvement!
Walk Heel to Toe
This is actually harder to perfect than it sounds, but still a fun challenge to see where your balance is at. It’s simple; pretend like you’re walking on a tightrope, moving in a straight line and walking heel to toe for 20 steps. Then, reverse the motion, walking toe to heel back to your starting position. If this sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because this is essentially how police officers administer field sobriety tests.
Get a Balance Board
To improve your balance on a day-to-day basis, it is not necessary to make any grand investments. But if you’re looking for a quick kit to help you out, a balance board can fit the bill quite nicely. As the name suggests, balance boards test your balance by forcing you to keep the ends of a circular or rectangular board from touching the ground. They come in all manner of shapes and sizes, and appear in varying difficulty levels. As a result, prices range significantly too; but inexpensive models are available that will more than fulfill your needs as a beginner.
Other Ways to Improve Your Balance
None of the above options appeal to you? Looking for some variety? Try these suggestions below!
• Join a martial arts class
• Take ballet
• Perform simple or weighted squats
• Do lunges and rolling planks for full-body stability
• Try sitting down and getting up (from a chair or the floor) without using your hands
You Were Born to Balance
No matter your age, it’s important to remember just how important it is to maintain—and improve—your balance as you get older. It won’t happen overnight, but by consistently performing the exercises listed above, you will be well on your way to feeling safe, coordinated, and capable far into the future.