Everyday habits to improve your balance

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Everyday habits to improve your balance

Can you hop on one foot? Walk on a narrow beam? Get up out of a chair with ease? These moves may sound simple but they’re sophisticated movements requiring good balance skills as you go about your daily routines.

Balance is a good thing – we need balance in our lives and we need balance when we move preventing dangerous falls.  Good balance may seem easy to come by but as you age, your ability to balance becomes more tenuous.  Poor balance increasing the risk of falls becomes more of an issue in older people often due to loss of muscle strength and joint flexibility, as well as reduced vision and reaction time.

Achieving and having good balance is a major complex feat – various sensory and motor systems, including vision (to perceive direction and motion), the vestibular system in the inner ear, and another important component called “proprioception” or the ability to sense where your body is in within its space.  Just the ability to remain steady on your feet requires good muscle strength and reaction time.  

To maintain balance throughout life, it takes effort on our part.  When we’re young, we take our ability to balance ourselves for granted.  Where you once walked uninhibited over a poorly maintained sidewalk, you may now find yourself gauging every step gingerly to prevent a fall.

Losing balance with age happens quite subtlety.    Usually before the age of 30, our balance is, for the most part, good.  But once you enter the third decade of life, our stride shortens, our steps slow down and our vision – critical for coordination – becomes fuzzier.  Balance is also affected by how active or inactive we are.  Just like in maintaining muscle mass, you either “use it or lose it” in maintaining balance.  The gradual loss of balance may go undetected until you have a major mishap resulting in minor or major injuries.

The key to keeping balance in check is to start today doing what you can to protect and preserve it.  One in three adults over age 65 takes a serious tumble each year.  To avoid a fall means a longer life.  For example, about 20% of women who fall and break their hip will become permanently disabled and another 20% will die within a year.  More women die from health complications related to hip fractures each year than breast cancer.  

Even if you are a naturally agile person, all of us need to work to boost balance with age.  Just like working at keeping your strength or flexibility, balance needs to be challenged through specific techniques making sure you are steady on your feet.

Here are strategies to do every day to help maintain your balance:

·      Practice standing on one leg – This can be done anytime throughout the day.  It could be done while brushing your teeth, washing dishes, standing in general, alternating standing on one leg for 30 seconds, then switch to the other.  To make it even more difficult, do it with your eyes closed.

·      Practice tai chi – The low-impact ancient Chinese practice of tai chi can be an excellent tool for improving balance.  Tai chi improves balance by strengthening and improving ankle flexibility, creating a more stable stance.  It also helps to distribute movement more evenly among the ankle, knee, and hip joints, enabling faster and smoother walking.  And it promotes a greater awareness of body and movement.

·      Practice walking heel to toe – The same field sobriety test cops give drunk drivers can also improve balance. Take 20 steps forward, heel to toe.  Then walk backward, with toe to heel, in a straight line.

·      Practice doing squats – To prevent a stumble turning into a fall, it takes sturdy legs.  Sturdy legs mean strong quadriceps muscles in the front of the legs and squats are the perfect answer for building these muscles.  Watch this video to know how to do a squat correctly.

·      Practice the force – To get yourself up and out of a chair, it takes muscle strength and muscle force.  Force is the ability to get your leg in the right place in a nanosecond in order to prevent falling.  Here’s a move to try to retain muscle force – once in a while, leap out of your chair so forcefully that you need to take a few running steps after you do so.  It’s sort of like pretending someone has just told you your house is on fire and you need to get out quickly.   What builds power is the explosiveness of the move.  Another way to practice force is doing the side-to-side and back-to-front muscle movements such as when you play tennis or basketball. 

·      Practice ballet or another form of dance – We all can appreciate the beauty and grace of ballet dancers so it is of no surprise they have great balance.  The reason why is because dancers in general, use more muscle groups even when walking across a room than people with no training.  Dance training strengthens your nervous system’s ability to coordinate muscle groups preserving balance.  Sign up for a dance class today. 

·      Practice balancing exercises – Here are a some balance moves testing how well your balance is – they are harder then they seem:

·      Stand with feet together, anklebones touching and arms folded across chest.  Close your eyes and time yourself for 60 seconds without moving your feet.  Then place one foot directly in front of the other and close your eyes, standing for up to 30 seconds on each foot.

·      Stand on one foot with hands on hip and place nonsupporting foot against inside of knee of standing leg.  Raise heel off floor and hold the pose for up to 25 seconds.

·      Test your balance by seeing how long you can stand on one foot with your eyes closed. Most people over 40 can’t go past 15 seconds. Even if you can, try to improve your time.

·      Without holding onto anything, rise up on your toes 10 times. Repeat with your eyes shut.

·      Stand on one leg for 10 to 15 seconds; switch legs; repeat 10 times. Then do again with your eyes shut.