Editor’s note: Before starting any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you feel pain.
When people think about improving their fitness, they often overlook the issue of balance. This is a critical oversight. According to research, a good balance is an integral part of physical fitness and is essential for a long life. This is an important question for everyone, no matter your age.
Older adults are most affected by poor balance. Falls are the leading cause of injury and death among people age 65 and older, with nearly 30% of this age group reporting at least one fall in 2018, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. United. But young adults often stumble too.
Forty-eight percent of young adults reported falling at least once during a 16-week study. Falls occurred most often during walking and sports activities, with study participants reporting more falls and fall-related injuries than men.
Falls in the previous two years were reported by 18% of young adults (ages 20 to 45) in another study published in the journal BMC Public Health. This figure compares to 21% of middle-aged adults (46-65) reporting falls and 35% of those over 65. While falls in young adults are often correlated with sports participation, stumbling in the middle age group is generally health related. physiological problems and changes.
Many factors can affect your balance aside from age, such as medications, vision changes, neuropathy in the feet, brain damage, obesity, and a general lack of physical fitness. Even if you don’t have any risk factors, simply neglecting to work on your balance regularly will lead to increased instability.
“Our bodies are conditioned to lose what we don’t use and practice on a regular basis, and the balance is no different,” Susan Baxter, a physiotherapist in Melbourne, Australia, said via email.
To see if your balance is fragile, here are three tests you can try. Before doing so, make sure you are in a safe environment in case you fall.
- Stand with your feet together, ankles touching, and arms crossed across your chest. You should be able to stand in this position with your eyes closed for 60 seconds. You can also do the same test by placing one foot directly in front of the other. You should be able to stand for 38 seconds on both sides.
- Stand on one foot, without your other foot touching your standing leg. People under 60 should be able to hold this position for 29 seconds with their eyes open and 21 seconds with their eyes closed. People 60 and older should be able to time 22 seconds and 10 seconds respectively.
- Stand on one foot with your hands on your hips, placing the other foot against the inside of your knee. By lifting the heel of your standing foot off the floor, you should be able to stay steady and straight for 25 seconds.
If you failed any of these tests, don’t despair. With a little practice, you can regain – and improve – your balancing skills. One of the easiest ways to do this is to practice a one-legged handstand on each leg, said Meltem Sonmez Burr, certified personal trainer and founder of Barreitude in New York. Practice standing next to a chair or something you can hold on to if you become unsteady.
Climbing stairs is another easy way to improve your balance, Baxter said, because good balance starts with a strong lower body. Squats and lunges also work. And since your inner ear’s vestibular system feeds on sensory input, Baxter recommended movements like kneeling on the floor or rising from a seated position, both of which require movement on different planes of your body.
If you prefer more playful exercises, you can dance, jump, walk sideways or backwards, or stand on tiptoes or heels, said Michael Landau, a Feldenkrais practitioner in Limache, Chile, who teaches the conscious movement. (Feldenkrais is an exercise therapy designed to help people reconnect with their bodies and improve their movement.)
The most important thing is to constantly challenge your balance.
“When you have good balance, you move with less fear and more flexibility,” Landau said, adding that fear of falling makes you stiff and stressed – and therefore more likely to fall.
Don’t think you have time to work on your balance? There are easy ways to incorporate it into your daily routines. Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth, watching TV, or waiting in line at the grocery store. Or periodically walking around without shoes, Baxter said.
“The mechanoreceptors in our feet send messages to our brain to let us know that our feet are working and where they are in space,” she said. “Once adequately trained to balance without shoes, step onto a yoga mat or thin pillow and try this challenge.”
Don’t be discouraged if you find these exercises difficult. Balance improves fairly quickly with a little practice. And the exercises will benefit you at any age, whether you are a child or 90 years old.
“Good balance improves your overall mobility, so you’ll move more and your muscles and bones will get stronger,” Landau said. “It’s good for longevity and general health, and it makes life worth living.”
Melanie Radzicki McManus is a freelance writer specializing in hiking, travel, and fitness.