Feeling unsteady? Try these 7 simple ways to improve your balance and increase stability
- 3 Minutes Read
No matter your age, don’t overlook the importance of including ways to improve balance and stability as part of your fitness routine. The benefits go beyond better performance and increased confidence—you will reduce the risk of falling and serious injury.
Think about the last time you had a stumble but also prevented a tumble. Thanks to your eyes, inner ears, nerves, and strong yet flexible muscles working together, you managed to stay upright. Although the balance response is innate, you can improve your balance. You don’t need to be a graceful dancer or a bendy yogi to increase your confidence and reduce fall risk and injury.
The single-leg stance is a simple way to assess your balance and track it over time. First, stand on one leg with the other foot raised off the floor. Do this in a doorway or with a chair nearby to grab if needed. Have a partner time how long you can stand before you reach out for stability or place your other foot on the ground. Then time your results standing on the other foot. Next, do the test with your eyes closed—it’s much more challenging!
|Age range||Eyes open (rounded to nearest second)||Eyes closed (rounded to nearest second)|
Any form of exercise helps improve balance. In particular, exercises that increase strength, require shifts in direction, use a less steady base, or reduce dependence on holding onto an object (such as a chair or bar) are ideal ways to help you become more steady. Balance training involves making yourself a bit “off balance” so your body learns what it needs to do to stabilize.
Your abdominal, lower back, and pelvic muscles are among the “core” muscles that help keep you upright and stabilize your spine, providing the foundation for balance. Classic core-strengthening exercises include glute bridges, planks, and “bird-dogs.”
Strong lower body muscles allow you to move in any direction and keep you stable. Walking, biking, hiking, squats, lunges, leg lifts, and toe raises are examples of exercises that develop these key muscle groups for balance and stability.
Learn to be “shifty” to achieve better balance. For example, transferring your weight from one foot to the other helps improve coordination and adapt to changes in movement. Try shifting your weight from side to side while standing in line or talking on the phone. Shift your weight from front to back (and back to front) by placing one foot forward and one foot back, transferring your weight from one foot to the other. Try tai chi (see below), an exercise that involves weight shifting.
It doesn't take a balance beam or slackline to improve your balance. Start on safe, solid ground. You can place masking tape or a piece of string on the floor in a straight line for reference if needed. Walk heel to toe with your arms out to your sides while looking forward. (Yes, you may feel like you are performing a sobriety test). Ready for advanced moves? Look side to side as you walk along the line—this will help your eyes and inner ears to work together to keep your balance. Next, try walking the line backward.
Channel your inner flamingo! Try standing on one leg while doing everyday tasks such as brushing your teeth or washing dishes.
Once you have mastered upper body exercises such as bicep curls or lateral raises, try doing them while standing on one foot. Using just one leg will add a challenge to your workout, work more muscles, and improve your balance.
Walking on uneven surfaces, such as hiking trails or cobblestone streets, helps you develop balance skills and will strengthen less-used muscles. Try incorporating a foam balance pad, a BOSU ball, or a wobble board into your workouts. Not afraid to get wet? Get out on the water on a standup paddleboard (SUP) for a fun way to improve your balance.
Research shows that yoga improves balance by strengthening and stretching your muscles while developing core strength and stability. Many yoga poses, such as the classic mountain and tree poses, are balance builders.
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese exercise involving fluid movements requiring weight shifts. It also helps develop strong ankle muscles and a stable stance. This gentle exercise can reduce the risk of falls in older adults.
Any activity will improve your strength and balance, whereas physical inactivity increases fall risk. For example, a simple walking routine helps you engage muscles to maintain balance since only one foot connects with the ground at a time. In addition, games like kickball, hopscotch, and basketball are all active ways to improve balance and have fun!
Note: Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your balance or fall risk.
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