Time to Improve Your Balance NOW

Recently I watched as a group of kids, including one of my “grands,” were playing.  There was a giggling competition to see who could balance standing on one foot for the longest time.

How long could you balance that way?

That happy competition got me thinking about a statistic I recently read that each year one in three people over the age of 65 will fall.  Remember how as youngsters, we often brushed off tumbles, but for those of us who are now AARP members a fall could mean bruising, breakage and even the loss of mobility which could lead to isolation or a required move to a nursing facility.

As usual, I’ve sorted through bundles of medical and exercise reports.  Then I consulted with my stellar fitness staff about the how to fight off falls related to balance issues.  I’ve gleaned a simple, do-it-almost-anywhere and effective way to improve and maintain balance.  Not everyone was born with perfect balance so it’s great news that you can improve it at any age.  However, with the exercise that follows, you can do it while you’re standing in line, waiting for the coffee to drip, brushing your teeth, checking your e-mail, talking on the telephone, or even during television commercials or the evening news.

Please note:  If you’re concerned about an older loved one, please take this column to heart because I agree with doctors that it’s never too late to work on one’s balance.  Talk with your loved ones about the easy exercise below and adapt it to their needs.

Now, let’s start to get your fit life into balance.

Standing tall, twist your right foot around and in back of your left ankle.  That’s it?  Yes, it’s that simple.  Hold the position for a count of five if you’re a beginner at balancing.  Hold it longer if it’s comfortable to do so.  Then switch sides.  I recommend contracting your buttocks and abdominal muscles at the same time so you can strengthen this essential area and really, get double the benefits.

For more advanced balancers, hold for two minutes or more, and again switch sides so that your right foot goes in back and around your left ankle.

For really advanced balancers, start by keeping just your toes on the floor and then when you’re comfortable lift your right foot off the floor during the exercise.  Hold again for two minutes and repeat on the other side.  When you’re ready, move your arms overhead and close your eyes.

For loved ones who are a bit unsteady or if you’re feeling that way yourself, place a hand on a sturdy object, like a tabletop or kitchen counter as you begin to increase your balance.  You can even hold your loved one’s hand or have them place one finger on your arm during this balancing exercise.

You should notice increased feeling of balance within a week and after six weeks may want to try some of the more advanced parts of this exercise.

Participation in sports helps to improve your balance and improved balance will help you in any sporting situation, whether that’s running, cycling or dancing. Increasing the time you can balance on one foot strengthens muscles and I believe it does more.  It helps you become more connected with your core self, allowing you to feel in control and powerful.

If you’ve enjoyed this balancing exercise, why not visit the Oaks at Ojai for a health holiday and try our yoga and stretch classes.  As you begin especially if you’re not naturally flexible, please realize that it may take some time to become more limber.  We’re not all meant to be as agile as ballerinas, but regular yoga, stretching movements and the simple balancing exercise above will decrease the chances of nasty sports injuries and falls in our later years.  Balancing is like a savings account.  You keep contributing and someday, should you need it, the rewards will be there.

For more information on increasing and maintaining balance, check out the slide show of balancing exercises from the Mayo Clinic’s site, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/multimedia/balance-exercises/sls-20076853.

Need one more reason for achieving better balance?  Your movements will become more fluid, youthful looking.  That’s an attractive benefit regardless of our age as you stay fit for life.

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