Balance - Who needs it?
When was the last time you slipped on ice and fell? Or tripped and pulled something as you tried to catch yourself? Guess what. It’s time to start paying attention to improving your balance. You don’t want to start falling down. Falling down is embarrassing. And painful. Falls are the leading cause of injury for people over the age of 65. And none of us are getting any younger.
Why does it get so bad?
There are three different ways the brain gets information to balance you: visual cues, vestibular information (inner ear) and proprioception (how you sense your body in space). The older you get, the worse these systems get (starting around age 40). You start to rely on visual cues, which don’t work as well as the others and then you start getting shaky when you stand. Which leads to more sitting around since you don’t want to feel shaky, which leads to even less balance. It’s a slippery slope.
How good is your balance?
Take the time to assess your stability in everyday circumstances. If you have trouble with any of these, you may want to start working on your balance.
Do you need to push off the armrests when getting up out of a chair?
Do you have to sit down to tie your shoes?
Do you have to hold on to the railing when you walk up the stairs or when on a treadmill?
Are you steady when you stand with your feet close together?
Do you fall over easily when someone nudges into you?
So what do I do?
This ability enables us to know where our limbs are in space without having to look. This can be achieved by doing an activity you aren’t used to and engaging your brain. Here are two great ways to get started:
Go dancing - Doing something that challenges your body and mind will help build both confidence and proprioception. If you are already a great dancer, I bet you don’t have much of a problem with balance. Lucky you.
Go to a yoga class - This will engage both the mental and the physical aspects of balance. I have to say that yoga made me more aware of my body than any other activity I have ever done. Plus, there are tons of balances that you can do. Think of just tree pose alone. In addition, yoga increases flexibility and strengthens important muscles used for balancing such as the hip complex and the core. Plus, it builds confidence like nobody’s business. Here are some more balancing yoga poses you can try out anywhere. Well, I wouldn’t try them out at the office or the grocery store, but you do what you want.
Get on an elevator - And then lift one foot up. You don’t even have to lift it high, so people won’t be aware of what the heck you are doing. Keep one foot lifted as you go up, and then try it on the other foot as you go down.
The Ultimate Test - Stand on one foot and close your eyes. Count how long you can stand. Then switch feet. Over time, you should be able to stand for longer periods of time. This is way harder than it sounds.
Strengthen the Hip Complex
Try this: Stand next to a chair or counter just in case you feel unsteady, but try not to deathgrip the object you are standing in front of. In fact, try not to hold on to it at all. Stand on one leg, and lift the other leg straight out in front of you, out to the side, and straight back without leaning over. Repeat 10 times on each side.
Try this: Get up from a chair and sit back down 10 times without holding on. Try it with feet together or feet wide apart. The wider the feet, the more stability you will have. Challenge yourself!
Strengthen the core.
Balance comes from the midsection of the body. If you are strong and secure there, it will be much easier to regain balance when you fall.
Try this: Stand with your feet together and release your ab muscles completely. Have someone push you. Now stand in the same position and bring your belly button toward your spine, engaging your abs. Hold them tight as that same jerk pushes you again. Were you able to hold on a little better? Do some planks, get some ab work in. Even as you practice all of the exercises below, think of engaging your core in every move.
Your balance can and will improve over time. Just like anything else, you have to work at it.