As adults, losing our balance is no laughing matter—we can pull muscles and break bones very easily, especially if we’re out of shape or have a condition such as osteoporosis. Just as you lift weights to improve strength and work out on a treadmill to improve cardiovascular fitness, you can (and should!) do exercises to improve balance. Training for improved balance is essential as you get older, when losing your balance as you step off a curb can cause a hip fracture.
It’s simple to incorporate a few balance exercises at the end of any fitness routine. You can even do some simple, effective exercises while waiting for your dinner to cook or even while watching television.
Here are a few options:
• Stand on one leg. Hold that position for 10 seconds on each leg and gradually work up to holding it for 30 seconds. Use a counter or a chair back for support until you can balance without holding on. For a more advanced challenge, close your eyes while balancing (but keep your hand near a support, in case you wobble).
• Lift your knee up to or just below hip level. Extend your lower leg for a few seconds, then bend the knee and bring the lower leg back in. Alternate 10 repetitions on each leg. Again, place your hands on a wall or a chair for support until you can do the exercise without support.
• Stand and place both hands on a counter or a chair back. Lift one leg to the side, keeping your foot slightly flexed and your knee pointing forward, not up. Repeat five to 10 times on each side. For a greater challenge, remove your hands from the support and place them on your hips or extend them out to the side.
If you like exercising at home and have a Nintendo Wii system, you can purchase a balance board and training exercises as accessories. If you belong to a gym, try a yoga class. Most include a segment of standing poses, such as the tree, chair, eagle, and warrior 3, which specifically focus on challenging balance. However, other poses, even those you do while seated or lying on the floor, also strengthen and improve the flexibility of the hip, abdominal, and back muscles. These muscle groups support the body, and when strong and flexible, contribute to better balance. Tai chi, a gentle martial arts form, has been shown to improve balance and prevent falls for older adults. If you like to use balance equipment, a Bosu balance trainer or inflated plastic balance disc can be used for a variety of exercises. Consult a personal trainer or use a DVD to learn the exercises.