How To Improve Balance
Here's Why Physical Balance Skills Are Important
Do you remember all the jumping / hopscotch / hand springs you did as a kid?
Well, maybe not hand springs, but anyway, you were a lot more agile then. Remember?
All those activities relied on your physical balance skills. It's a fact that we lose some of our ability to balance as we age. Far and away, it is one of the most critical concerns for seniors.
How Does Physical Balance Work?
Without getting too technical, physical balance is a learned skill. It is also a skill maintained and improved by practice.
Basically, your brain becomes adept at telling your muscles what to do and your body responds. But as we age, we practice these skills less and less until we become dependant on hand rails or other types of support.
Think of a gymnast. All the hours of practice on the balance beam lets her perform her routine flawlessly. Yes, sometimes there is an element of gifted athletic ability involved, but the truth is we don't have to lose all our balance skills as we grow older.
Why Physical Balance Skills Are So Important
Maintaining our physical balance skills is exceptionally important because it affects just about everything we do. Standing, walking, simple chores, and even driving rely heavily on our ability to balance.
Sadly, for those who have become immobile, their physical balance abilities have all but abandoned them. Don't let this happen to you!
Exercises To Improve Balance
With the many advances in sports and fitness training, new emphasis has been placed on developing balance skills in athletes. In recent years, these exercises have spread to health clubs, fitness facilities, and the home fitness market.
Here are some of the best exercises to improve your physical balance skills ...
Stand On One Leg
While it may sound trite, standing on one leg (and then alternating to the other) for a set time period can really improve your balance skills.
Try it at home. We recommend doing this in front of a full length mirror so you can focus on one portion of your body. First, try standing on one leg while lifting the other off the ground. See if you can maintain your balance for 15 seconds. Then try it with the other leg.
You will find that it's easier with one leg versus the other. This is natural because you have one dominant side, similar to which hand you write with.
Tip: Focus specifically on one area of your body while you're balancing, for example, your belt buckle. This keeps your head straight and helps train your brain to help you balance.
Balance Board Exercises
Are you a board sport participant, like skiing or snowboarding or water skiing? If so, you can drastically improve your performance in these sports and increase your balance skills as well.
How? Get yourself a balance board, which is a specially designed fitness device created to simulate these board sports.
They're about the same size as a surf or snowboard (and often much smaller for indoor purposes) and have a roller or sturdy ball attached to the bottom. The goal, of course, is to stay atop the board without tipping off.
Believe us when we tell you ... it's a great workout. The key is keeping your torso as still as possible and relying on your legs to navigate atop the balance board.
Group Fitness Classes
If you enjoy group fitness classes, we recommend both pilates and yoga to help your balance skills. As an added bonus, both types of classes are low impact and help give you that long, lean look.
It's no surprise that both pilates and yoga emphasize posture, breathing, and holding set positions. These are the exact same skills used for balance, so your physical balance skills will improve the more consistently you participate in these classes. There are many group balance classes now offered for seniors. We highly recommend these to feel steady on your feet and prevent falls.
Ways To Improve Your Balance
Other Exercises You Can Do
While we recommend using a balance board as the best way to improve your balance skills, there are some other simple exercises you can try ...
Up On Your Toes
If you ever played basketball, football, or been in dance classes for that matter, the phrase "on your toes" will ring a bell.
That's because if you are up on your toes, you are basically being forced to be agile and balanced. Ballet dancers are the perfect example.
Try standing on your toes in front a mirror for at least 30 seconds. This exercise is not as hard as a one legged stand, but it's challenging nonetheless. It also works your calf muscles as an added bonus!
You will see balance balls at your gym or health club because they are frequently used in group fitness classes. Pilates classes incorporate balance balls, which are large inflatable durable plastic balls about 3 feet or so in diameter.
Balance balls are great to use with abdominal exercises because they require you to use your entire abdominal section without pulling on the back of your head and neck. This improves your core, which is also important for physical balance.