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.
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