Though it might not be number one on your priority list, you need good balance to do just about everything, including walking, getting out of a chair and leaning over to tie your shoes. Strong muscles and being able to keep yourself steady make all the difference in things you do every day.
Balance tends to decrease with time, especially if you're not active. As you age, your bones, muscles and the little receptors that sense and control balance change, which can increase your risk of falling. People that consistently train balance and resistance train can prevent age-related changes from occurring, stay independent and decrease risks of falling.
Balance training involves doing exercises that challenge your balance and stability and strengthen the muscles that help keep you upright, including your legs and core. These kinds of exercises can improve reactions and help prevent falls.
Luckily, exercises that test your balance are easy to work into your life – you can do them anywhere. In general, any workout move you do in a standing/upright position requires some level of balance. When you do exercises that throw off your center of gravity—like holding one leg up in the air while doing a bicep curl—your body and brain have to work and react to keep you stable.
I advise my patients to work balance exercises into their warm-ups or between their traditional exercises within their typical routine. Also, I’ll tell them to just practice standing on one leg throughout their day, like while brushing their teeth or standing in line at the grocery store.
1. Single-leg balance with opposite foot reaches
Mark two spots on the floor, one in front of you and one to the side. While standing on one foot, slightly bend your standing foot and reach the opposite foot out in front and then to the side. Touch the two identified spots. Repeat this 10 times on each leg.
2. Single-leg balance with arm reach
Place a box or chair about a foot or two in front of you. While standing on one leg, bend your standing leg. Reach forward until your hands tap the box. The foot you're not standing on should extend back slightly, making sure the knee of your standing leg stays in line with your toe. Repeat this 10 times on each foot.
3. Single-leg balance with lateral arm lift
While standing on one foot, lift both arms to your sides until they're shoulder height. For more of a challenge, use weights. Repeat this 10 times on each foot.
4. Single leg balance with alternating uppercuts
While standing on one foot, lift one arm at a time so that your hand reaches toward the opposite shoulder. For more of a challenge, use weights. Repeat this 10 times on each foot.
5. Single-leg balance with overhead wall reach
Stand with your back to a wall, holding a medicine ball or weight. While standing on one foot, start with your arms down and slowly reach them above your head, gently tapping the ball on the wall behind you. Repeat this 10 times on each foot.
Chris Kolba is a physical therapist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.