Why good balance is key to a healthy life

Editor’s note: Before starting any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you feel pain.



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When people think about improving their physical fitness, they often overlook the issue of balance. This is an important observation. Research has shown that good balance is the key to staying physically fit and living a long life. This is an important issue for everyone, no matter what your age.

Older adults are most affected by poor balance. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury and death for people 65 and older, with nearly 30% of this age group having at least one fall in 2018. But young adults also often stumble.

Forty-eight percent of young adults reported falling at least once during a 16-week study. Tumbles typically occur during running and sports activities, with female participants in the study reporting more falls and fall-related injuries than males.

Another study published in the BMC Public Health Journal reported a fall in the previous two years by 18% of young adults (ages 20 to 45). That figure drops compared to 21% of middle-aged adults (46 to 65) and 35% of those over 65. Issues and physical changes.

Many factors can affect your balance outside of age, such as medication, vision changes, neuropathy of the feet, brain injuries, obesity and a general lack of physical fitness. Even if you don’t have any risk factors, simply neglecting to work on your balance regularly will lead to increased instability.

“Our bodies are conditioned to lose what we don’t use and exercise regularly, and balance is no different,” Susan Baxter, a physiotherapist in Melbourne, Australia, said via email.

To see if your balance is wobbly, here are three tests you can try. Before doing this, make sure you are in a safe environment in case you fall.

  • Stand with your feet together, ankles touching and arms folded over your chest. You should be able to stand in this position, with your eyes closed, for 60 seconds. You can also do the same test by placing one foot directly in front of the other. You should be able to stand for 38 seconds on either side.
  • Stand on one leg, without your other foot touching your standing leg. People under the age of 60 should be able to stand in this position for 29 seconds with their eyes open and 21 seconds with them closed. People 60 and older should be able to see 22 seconds and 10 seconds, respectively.
  • Stand on one leg with your hands on your hips, placing the other foot on the inside of your knee. You should be able to stay still and upright for 25 seconds, lifting the heel of your standing leg off the floor.

If you fail any of these tests, don’t be discouraged. With some practice, you can regain and improve your balancing skills. One of the easiest ways to do this is to practice a one-legged balance hold on each foot, says Meltem Sonmez Bure, certified personal trainer and founder of Baritude in New York. Practice standing on a chair or something you can hold onto if you become unsteady.

Climbing stairs is another easy way to improve your balance, says Baxter, adding that part of good balance is having a strong lower body. Squats and lunges work too. And since the vestibular system in your inner ear thrives on sensory input, Baxter recommends standing from kneeling or sitting positions on the ground, which require movements in different planes of your body.

If you prefer a more playful exercise, you can dance, jump, walk sideways or backward, or stand on your toes or heels, says Michael Landau, Feldenkrais practitioner in Limache, Chile. Said, who teach brain speed. (Feldenkrais is an exercise therapy designed to help people reconnect with their bodies and improve their movement.)

Most importantly, constantly challenge your balance.

“When you have good balance, you move with less fear and more flexibility,” said Landau, adding that the fear of falling makes you stiff and tense—and thus more likely to fall.

Don’t think you have time to work on your balance? There are easy ways to incorporate it into your daily routine. Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth, watching TV or waiting in line at the grocery store. Or walk around without shoes from time to time, Baxter said.

“Mechanoreceptors in our feet send messages to our brain to tell us that our feet are working and where they are in space,” she said. “Once you’re trained enough to balance without shoes, step onto a yoga mat or thin pillow and try that challenge.”

Don’t be discouraged if you find these exercises challenging. With a little practice the balance improves very quickly. And exercise will benefit you at any age, whether you’re a kid or in your 90s.

“Good balance improves your general mobility, so you’ll move more and your muscles and bones will be stronger,” Landau said. “It’s good for longevity and general health, and it makes life worth living.”

Melanie Radzicki McManus is a freelance writer who specializes in hiking, travel, and fitness.

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