Balancing For Life
5 Exercises Designed to Help You Keep Your Balance
Keeping your balance is a key skill for any human being. When we are young we have such lovely plastic brains that we don’t even have to think about keeping upright whatever we are doing. Play, and playing, tests and stretches us and our brains and keeps the neural pathways continually in use so they just get better and better which as we all know means they work seamlessly without much thought.
As we get older our ability to play both in practicality, and also in opportunity, decreases quite dramatically which means that often our brains actually get a bit lazy. It doesn’t mean it forgets what to do but without use it gets a bit rusty so to speak.
One of the major findings in the last 10 – 20 years has been the fact that our brains can easily be trained and retrained to do things and create skills as adults that we thought were long gone or not available to us.
There has also been research concluding that being able to stand on one leg is an indicator of future Cardiovascular disease health, as well as an indication of falls risk. Of course falling can result in broken bones and all of the things that can then lead to disability, and even death as a result.
So what can you do about all of this? Well the first thing is to do your own balance test to see just how good, or not, you are at balancing.
Stand barefoot on a hard floor and close your eyes. You might want to have someone around in case you wobble over. They can also time you.
If you are right handed then stand on your right leg and lift the left foot. Not too high but definitely off the ground around 6 inches.
Get the person helping you to time how long you can stand like this without wobbling over.
Repeat this 3 times and then find your average time across the 3 episodes. Then check the table to see what your balance age actually is.
Balance Time in Seconds Age
- 4 70
- 5 65
- 7 60
- 8 55
- 9 50
- 12 45
- 16 40
- 22 30-35
- 28 25-30
The more you are physically active, and the more you do exercises that improve your balance, the better your balance age becomes.1
Your ability to balance is crucial if you are about to increase your activity levels after a spell away from being fit so make sure you add some of the following to your routine.
If you are already reasonably active then you should test yourself and see how much you improve by adding some of these exercises.
Some people recommend wearing comfortable shoes whilst doing these but I really think that given the role of the sensors in your feet that practicing them barefoot is a better way. It gives a much better connection between your feet, the ground and your brain which is what we are trying to activate after all.
Simple Exercises to improve your balance.
Single leg stand
- Simply stand on one leg for 30 seconds whilst doing something like cleaning your teeth, or not. You will need to start out by being close to something that you can hold on to. Eventually you will be able to do this unaided for 30 seconds.
Single leg squats
- Although a bit harder than a simple stand it is worth working up to these.
- Start out holding onto something that you can slide your hand up and down easily on so you’re not leaning on it too hard.
- Do a simple squat by pushing your bottom out and going down as far as you can without pushing yourself.
- Start with 5 each side and work up to 10 each side.
- Once you have mastered them with support try them without support.
- When you can do that easily then add some hand weights.
Side leg raise
- Stand near a wall or bench so you have something to grab if you wobble over.
- Place both hands on your waist and then slowly raise one leg out to the side just a few inches off the floor.
- Hold for a few seconds and repeat till you have done 10 on this side.
- Repeat with the other leg. Do 3 times each side
- Whilst standing simply raise your heels and stand on your toes then go back to the starting position. Do this 10 – 20 times.
- You can graduate to doing this with light hand weights to make it a little harder.
- You can also try this on a step where you balance with your toes on the edge of the step, your heels off the edge and then lift up.
- Progress to doing this with one leg at a time and then add weights to the side you are lifting up.
Sit to Stand
- Get up from a straight backed chair without using your hands and then sit down again (this is a form of squat) repeat 10 – 20 times.
Balance relies on a number of things to be working in perfect harmony. Almost any kind of physical activity will help improve your balance as you make your body do things outside of your normal daily routine.
Exercises that promote better balance focus on core and lower body strength as well as flexibility through stretching, and balancing exercises that stretch your brain.
5 Top Tips on Stretching
Why, When & How Much
Flexibility is a key component of our ability to do the things we really want to do in life. Many women accept getting stiffer and not being able to do the things they want as an inevitable part of being older. Well that old saying “use it or lose it” has never been more true when it comes to this issue.
Despite there being lots of physiological changes occurring as you get older there is something very simple you can do to maintain your flexibility. You simply need to stretch, yes that’s right a simple stretching routine everyday will help you bend and move more easily. What’s more it has been scientifically proven to improve the range of motion in your joints.
There has been much debate and discussion around stretching. When you should do it, how long to hold etc. etc.
So in an effort to make it simple for you here is my advice and my thoughts after distilling all the research I could find, and reflecting on my own experience.
The latest research is saying that you only need to hold a stretch for 30 seconds and that any longer does not give you any more advantage. Great news for those of us who are a little time poor.
- Warm up first, there is good evidence to suggest that if you are warmed up you will stretch better. Attempting to stretch muscles that are not warm is more likely to result in injury especially for older women. Before you ask, yes you should stretch after walking as well. I’m not just talking about high energy activity you should stretch even after gentle exercise.
- Getting into the habit of going through a stretching routine after your workout allows you to check in with specific parts of your body to see if there are any tight or sore spots. You can use this information to adapt your training program, and to make sure you focus your recovery on these areas e.g. Self-massage using rollers or balls.
- If you haven’t just been exercising then 5 minutes of activity to warm up your muscles and joints will do the trick as well. That could be 5 minutes of skipping, jogging on the spot or high knees. Even a quick walk around your house or yard will do the trick
- If you want a good all over stretch and want to build your strength and fitness then Yoga is a great addition to any woman’s training program. It not only helps you relax and get stronger it gives your body a really good stretching workout.
- If you are feeling stiff and sore from working out, or just working too hard in the garden a hot bath with Magnesium salts will also make a big difference. The hot water promotes an increased blood supply to your muscles and helps to get rid of the by-products of doing too much.
I've created a short and very quick stretching routine here that you can use everyday. Of course it is better if you can do a full routine, and there is on in my book, but even this little one will soon have you timing your shoelaces up more easily.
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