It's a delicate balance.
It starts from the minute we’re born.
Life requires one balancing act after another!
Babies must learn to sit, pull up, crawl and walk. Balance. Children learn to ride a bike, play a sport, play active games on the playground. Balance. Things adults take for granted, the basic functional movements: reaching into the cupboard, bending down to tie a toddler’s shoe, getting in and out of the car, climbing the stairs, putting your pants on. It all requires balance.
Balance skills are not only an integral component of healthy aging, they are absolutely essential to maintain the quality and safety of our lives. The CDC cites accidental falls as the leading cause of death and injury among older adults. A full 30% of adults over age 65 in the United States experience a fall every year. This is unacceptable and can be reversed through excellent nutrition and exercise. Age should never become the sole excuse for restricting movement!
So how is YOUR balance? Here’s a quick test to find out.
Stand up, close your eyes, place one foot in front of the other, heel to toe and imagine (just imagine...don’t do it.) you’re going to walk forward on a straight line. (The basic inebriation test.) Remember, don’t actually move, just hold still, close your eyes and maintain your balance for 30 seconds.
How’d you do?
If you were able to maintain for those 30 seconds, your balance is pretty good! If you were wobbly the second you closed your eyes, or even before, then your balance is poor.
No worries. Balance is something that can be improved, and we SHOULD work to improve it.
Once again, you don’t have to be a member of a gym to workout. There are many easy and enjoyable exercises that can help maintain balance and stability and can be done while you brush your teeth in the morning.
One of the most basic balancing exercises is to practice balancing on one foot. Lift one leg slightly, hold for several seconds, and then change legs. Feel free to hold the back of a chair if you need some help starting out. As this becomes easier, then challenge yourself by lifting your leg higher, extending it out the the side or by reaching up and down with your arms while balancing. Then challenge yourself even further by closing your eyes and repeating these movements. You WILL notice a difference if you simply invest 5 minutes a day in balance challenges.
After you’ve mastered some of the basic balance exercises, you can proceed with some more serious balance training tools/toys. If you’re a gym member, most of these will be provided in your gym. If you’re not a gym member, these balance-training tools are just a click away on your computer, or at your favorite local discount or sporting goods store. Some of these items are pricier than others, and as I’ve said before, equipment isn’t essential-it just takes you to the next level.
Stability ball ($10-$30)
Simply by sitting, lying or leaning on this ball to perform your exercises helps improve balance. One of my favorite tips for my office worker clients is to swap their chair for a ball. Builds that core strength and sharpens balance skills.
Versa Discs ($20-$30)
These little inflatable discs pack quite a punch to your exercise routine. You can sit, kneel or stand on these inflatable discs to increase the intensity of whatever exercise you are doing. Try placing one under each foot while doing bicep curls, or under both hands while doing pushups.
BOSU ball ($100)
BOSU balls are versatile. You can use this to perform a wide variety of exercises that help improve your core strength and balance. The BOSU ball usually comes packaged with exercise helps and sometimes even a video to help. One of my favorite exercises utilizing the BOSU is to hold a moderately heavy set of dumbbells and then perform a squat to an overhead press!
Start NOW. Improvements come quickly.
Balance training is good for people of every age, so get the family involved. Everyone from your preschooler to grandparents can benefit and, because it is so fun, they may not even recognize they are exercising!
Google “balance exercises” to learn more exercises to do to keep your routine fresh. Take a Yoga Class.
While your friends are aging and becoming restricted to life in a chair that has to lift them to their feet, you’ll be thankful that you can leap out of bed, dress yourself with ease, tie your running shoes, and get out to compete in your seasonal triathlon through your 90’s. Keep taking the stairs and working to keep your body finely tuned by adding balance exercises to your daily active lifestyle.