Exercises to Maintain Balance At Any Age

People don't usually think about balance until they fall, but little signs like needing to sit down to tie your shoes, relying on handrails to go up and down stairs, and using arm rests to get out of your chair can be early warnings that your sense of balance is starting to go.

Because most people don’t develop balance problems until they are well into their 50s, experts recommend improving balance in your 30s and 40s by staying active and doing simple exercises. Also, the parts of the brain that control balance start to erode after 40.

Falls are the leading cause of injury in people over 65 and the complications like fractures to the spine and hip can be disabling.  Every 17 seconds, someone in this age group is treated in an emergency room for a fall. Every 30 minutes, one will die from injuries caused by falling. They are almost always caused by weak bones.

Exercises can isolate the various systems in the body that affect balance and keep them in good shape. Another perk of balance exercises is that they can be done in 5-10 minute bouts a few times a day, pretty much anywhere, so you don’t need to rearrange your day.

If you live in a city and use public transportation, see if you can stand while moving without having to grip the handrails so tightly.  This will challenge you body to maintain stability on its own.  When you’re out and about walking around, see what it is like to walk back and forth on uneven surfaces, from pavement to grass for example, and feel the muscles working to balance.

If you own an exercise ball at home, sit on it with your legs straight in front of you and shift you weight from side to side.

Also at home, stand with your right arm straight out in front of you. Lift your opposite (left) leg and swing it back a few time. This tests your coordination.  See if you can do it with your eyes closed – blocking out one balancing sense can strengthen another.

You can also strengthen four separate groups of muscles in your hips, a very important component in balance, by using your kitchen counter like a ballet bar.  Hold on and lift your outer leg front, side, and back while keeping your hips in place. It’s similar to the exercise you can do on a hip abductor machine at the gym.

Next time you’re seated, try to get up 10 times in a row without using the armrest. Try it with your feet apart and closer together.

Another fun one - grab five objects from around your house that are not too bulky, line them in a row and weave between them. And while you’ve got the walking bug, walk in an imaginary circle and make the circle tighter and tighter as you go.

Because balance and coordination go hand and hand, you also need to exercise your nervous system.  That sounds impossible, but doing timing exercises, or patterns of exercise, can help. Standing shoulder length apart, shift your weight from one side to the other so that the opposite heel is off the ground.  Add speed and change up the patterns to practicing coordination. These are moves that you’ll see replicated in sports like gymnastics and tennis where players have to adjust to their environments, unlike long-distance running which is repetitive.

Yoga is another good choice because it promotes flexibility and uses a variety of muscles, including the hips, that benefit balance. One study even found that yoga helped improve balance in stroke patients.

The best piece of advice is just to try.  When we tell ourselves that we can’t do something we become more sedentary and our balance worsens.

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