If you’ve ever slipped on a wet floor, you know how unsettling it can be to lose your balance. If you were lucky, you grabbed on to someone or something and, as your heart rate returned to normal, you moved on, slightly more cautious.
When you were a child, an incident like that probably didn’t slow you down a bit. But, by the time you’re in your 20s, your sense of balance begins to decline and, with it, your ability to avoid slipping or to recover from a slip. Improving your balance makes it easier for you to “right yourself” when you feel off kilter. Better balance helps you perform better at sports and feel safer and more secure during everyday activities like doing household chores, working in your yard or climbing stairs with a bag of groceries in one arm and a baby in the other.
As you age, physical changes—including joint stiffness, vision problems and muscle weakness—can erode your sense of balance even more. Unfortunately, some older adults end up cutting back on activity to avoid potentially serious falls.
Good news—no matter what your age, you can feel more confident on your feet by regularly exposing your body to situations that challenge your sense of balance. Simply walking can help sedentary people train their bodies’ sensory receptors to achieve better balance. Tai chi and other martial arts, dance classes, yoga and Pilates can also help. Fitness trainers use exercise tools such as wobble boards, stability balls and Bosu balls to improve clients’ balance.
Here’s an easy exercise to test how you stand (or wobble) and to help improve your balance:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and extend your arms in front of you.
- Lift your left foot and bend your leg back.
- Hold this position for five seconds, then lower your leg to the floor briefly.
- Repeat five more times and then switch legs.
Make it easier: Stand near a table, a wall, a chair or a countertop on which you can rest your hand or a finger.
Make it harder: Do the exercise without holding on to anything. Lengthen the time you stand on each leg. Finally, try closing your eyes as you perform the exercise.
If you have a medical condition that affects your equilibrium, talk to your doctor first about your options to help your balance. You may need to see a physical therapist who can show you appropriate exercises.