We take our balance for granted. We do. It’s mainly because we don’t think about it until we don’t have it. But we call on it when we stand up, sit down, walk up a flight of stairs or stroll down a sidewalk. Do you remember when you couldn’t ride a bike? Here’s what’s what about your balance: When you’re not as youthful and active as you are right now? You’ll need a strong sense of it. Here’s what improving your balance can do:
- Prevent falls. That’s the big one. You’ve lost your balance here and there, right? Stumbled and caught yourself on occasion. But when you get much older, a stumble could turn into a serious, ugly fall. It happens too often. In fact, falls in adults aged 65-plus account for over 50 percent of injury-related hospital admissions, studies show. And we know you want to be as independent and fly as long as possible.
- Strengthen your powerhouse. That is, your core – those abdominal and lower back muscles all around your torso. Work on improving your core, and you’ll see the benefits in how you perform in other activities (running, hiking, Plyometric moves, skiing, etc.)
- Improve your posture. “Stand up straight!” your mama used to say. With improved balance through stability exercises, you’ll walk taller, look leaner and give off confidence.
- Help relieve back pain. This goes hand in hand with strengthening your core muscles. Studies have shown that trunk balance exercises along with flexibility moves improve the quality of life for those with chronic back pain.
So how do you work on your balance? Glad you asked. Here are two basic, no-equipment ways to work it into your exercise routine:
Balance on one leg
Turn a standing bicep curl into a single-leg bicep curl by simply lifting one leg. You want instability. Hold that leg to the front or back. Start very low if you need to, then raise it higher as you get comfortable. For more of a challenge, add movement to your leg. And if holding the weight and keeping your balance prove too difficult, scale back. Try doing the motion without weights first. Then, progress to a light set of dumbbells. Do this with planks and push ups, too.
Change your support system
When your feet are wider apart, say, shoulder-width, you have a strong foundation for doing squats or a shoulder press or bicep curls. But place your feet closer together, and now you’re challenging yourself. The more narrow your stance, the harder you work your balance. Remember to keep your abdominals tight.
If you like toys, a stability ball, BOSU ball, a bench/chair, medicine ball or foam roller are all tools you can use to practice your balance. For instance, use a stability ball to sit on for bicep curls. Or, try a plank. Use a chair for help performing a single-leg squat, as they are tricky to master. Try a modified push up with a foam roller under one hand.
Whatever you do, make balance exercises a priority in your workouts!
Joslyn Murphy is freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York.