Most of us under the age of 65 (excluding tightrope walkers) tend to take our sense of balance for granted. After all, debilitating falls generally happen to older people. But it turns out that maintaining our sense of balance earlier in life offers a host of health benefits.
• Fewer Sports Injuries: Good balance can enhance performance and decrease the risk of sports-related injuries.
• Slower Aging Process: As we age, we experience a natural decline in muscle mass and bone density, as well as other physiological changes that can affect balance. By focusing on balance earlier, we can potentially slow down these processes.
• Reduced Effects of Too Much Sitting: Maintaining good balance requires active engagement of your muscles, which can help counteract some of the negative effects of sedentary behavior.
• Better Bone Health: Maintaining balance and engaging in weight-bearing activities helps keep bones strong, which is vital in preventing conditions like osteoporosis.
• Better Brain Health: Balance exercises often require concentration, coordination and neuromuscular communication. Engaging in activities that challenge balance can help maintain and even improve cognitive function.
• Prevention of Chronic Conditions: Good balance and overall physical activity can help prevent or manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
• Better Coordination: Balance exercises improve not just balance itself but also coordination. This helps in various daily tasks and activities.
• Faster Rehabilitation: For those who do experience injuries or surgeries, having a strong sense of balance beforehand can aid in faster and more effective rehabilitation.
Before testing your balance, make sure you’re in a safe environment in case you fall.
1. Stand with your feet together with arms folded across your chest and close your eyes. You should be able to stand in this position, with your eyes closed, for 60 seconds.
2. Stand on one foot, suspending your other foot in the air. Those under age 60 should be able to stand in this position for 29 seconds with their eyes open and 21 seconds with them closed. People 60 and older should be able to stand this way for 22 seconds and 10 seconds, respectively.
3. Stand on one foot with your hands on your hips and place your other foot against the inside of your knee. Stand on the ball of your foot by raising the heel of your standing foot off the floor. You should be able to remain steady and upright for 25 seconds.
Any of these activities will strengthen your balance over time:
• Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth, watching television or waiting in line at the grocery store.
• Walk around barefoot. This improves sensory feedback because the balancing nerve endings are exposed directly to the stimuli, improving body awareness and balance.
• Walk up and down the stairs to improve your lower body and core strength. Make sure to use the railing if you feel unbalanced.
• Stand up from a seated position, especially from the floor. This exercise requires strength and coordinates movement across different planes of your body.
• For more playful exercises, dance, jump, walk sideways or backward or walk/stand on your tiptoes or heels.
• Try tai chi or yoga. These exercise regimens focus on posture and breathing and train your body to shift in space while controlling movement.
Doctors ask these questions to help diagnose a balance problem. Do you:
• Feel unsteady when you stand up suddenly?
• Feel as if the room is spinning around you, even for a very brief time?
• Feel as if you’re moving when you know you’re sitting or standing still?
• Sometimes feel as if you’re falling when you’re not?
• Feel lightheaded or as if you might faint?
• Have blurred vision?
• Feel disoriented, losing your sense of time or location?
If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, seeking a medical opinion would be a good next step.
It’s never too early to consider your balance skills. You can achieve stronger balance in just a few minutes a day. A little effort now can have a big payoff later.