While it’s often overlooked, good balance is an important factor when it comes to overall health. Exercise and nutrition scientist Kathleen Alleaume has five ways to improve your balance.
We all know about the importance of cardiovascular exercise and strength training, but balance exercises are just as important for overall health and particularly for injury prevention.
Balance describes your level of stability – how your body is aligned and positioned, and how it moves during everyday activities, such as walking or reaching for objects. Poor balance can lead to falls and injury, especially for older people. By developing greater balance, you’ll improve your coordination and postural stability, maintain your independence and move more confidently.
Stretch and strengthen
Strength and flexibility are two of the most necessary components of good balance. The best ways to improve these are through stretching – which improves range of motion and flexibility – and strength training, particularly the core muscles – which help you stand tall, sit up straight and more easily perform daily activities, such as lifting bags of groceries.
Achieve better balance
Fortunately, balance is a skill that can be developed and maintained through practise and repetition. What’s more, balance training is good for people of every age and fitness level, and you don’t need much equipment to perform basic exercises. In fact, it all starts with good posture – which you can practise anytime, anywhere!
How’s your balance?
Here’s an easy way to test your balance. Stand up and imagine you’re about to walk forward in a straight line, placing one foot directly in front of the other so that the heel of your front foot touches the toes of your back foot. Keep both feet flat on the floor and your arms by your sides or in front of you (don’t hold them out to the side). Hold that position and close your eyes. If you can maintain your balance for 30 seconds, you are doing pretty well. If you start wobbling as soon as you close your eyes – or before – your balance could use some improvement.
5 balancing acts to work into everyday life
As always, consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program or if you have a medical condition that affects your ability to exercise safely.
1. Knee raises
Aim: Helps with climbing stairs and getting in and out of cars and buses.
Place your fingertips on something solid to help you balance, lift a knee to hip level and hold it for 5 seconds.
Repeat with the other leg.
Repeat 8 times (4 times per leg).
2. Weight shifts
Aim: Improves stability and helps you step sideways to avoid tripping.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your weight equally distributed on both legs.
Shift your weight to your right side, then lift your left foot off the floor .
Hold the position as long as you can, keeping your torso upright, for up to 30 seconds.
Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
As your balance improves, increase to 10 repetitions per leg.
3. Sit to stand
Aim: Helps with getting up and down from a sitting position, and in and out of the car.
From a sitting position, stand up slowly from a chair, keeping your knees slightly apart. To make it harder, cross your arms in front of your chest or hold them out in front of you at shoulder height.
Lower yourself back down into the chair. If this is too much for your knees, use a chair with armrests, so you can push off from them.
Repeat 5 times.
4. Heel raises
Aim: Helps strengthen the calf muscles, which are important for balance and mobility. Strong calf muscles will also assist with climbing stairs and walking.
Place your fingertips on something solid to help you balance, lift both heels off the floor and stand on your toes. Hold for 3 seconds.
Slowly lower your heels to the floor.
Repeat 5 times.
5. Heel to toe standing/walking
Aim: Helps keep balance when walking through a narrow space.
Place your fingertips on something solid (e.g. wall/chair) to help you balance, stand with one foot directly in front of the other (heel to toe), bend your knees slightly and keep still for 10 seconds.
Repeat with opposite foot in front.
Vary the exercise: walk slowly by placing your heel to touch the toe of the other foot.
Perform each exercise three days per week and you’ll notice significant improvement within two to three weeks. You’ll have better posture and better balance.