Balance in life is essential. And a good sense of physical balance is the key to independence.
As people reach their 40s and 50s, they may notice changes in vision, hearing, and strength. These natural and normal changes occur during the aging process and may contribute to the loss of balance.
But the good news is you can improve muscle strength and balance at any age – and there’s no need for special equipment!
Your body and a sturdy surface are all that’s required to do these exercises. (Please talk to your health care provider before you begin, especially if you have pre-existing conditions or are on medications that cause dizziness.)
1. Single leg stands. Stand on a stable, even surface with your feet shoulder-distance apart. Lift one leg and hold it off the floor for at least 10 seconds. Switch to the other leg. If you’re new to balance exercises and feel wobbly, stand next to a sturdy chair, counter, or wall to help you keep your balance. Repeat the series three times on each leg. The goal is to hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds. You can do this exercise almost anywhere. Balance on one leg when you wait in line, brush your teeth, or comb your hair.
2. Leg swings. Start by standing on a solid, even surface with your feet hip-distance apart. Lift one leg, and s-l-o-w-l-y swing your leg forward and back to the center. Place your foot on the floor to readjust your balance and then swing your leg to the back. Repeat the movement five times on each leg. As you become stronger, try to do the exercise without putting your foot down. Repeat the series three times on each side.
3. One-leg windmills. Start with your feet hip-distance apart on an even surface. Lift one leg and circle your opposite arm like a windmill at your side, your fingers point to the floor at the bottom of the movement and at the ceiling at the top. As your balance improves, stand on one leg and windmill both arms at once. Repeat the exercise five times on each side to complete one set. Repeat the movement three times to complete the series.
4. Slow march in place. Stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart. Slowly lift your leg until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Lower your leg. Repeat five times, then repeat the movement on the other leg to complete one set. Complete the exercise three times on each leg.
5. Walk a tight rope. Use a string or a seam in the floor as a guide. Raise both arms straight out to your sides at shoulder level for balance. Place your right foot on the line. Place the heel of the left foot in front of the toes of your right foot. Lift your right foot and place it heel-to-toe in front of your left foot. Repeat for six steps on each foot. Turn around and walk heel-to-toe back to the beginning. Work up to 20 steps in a row in each direction.
6. Sit and Stand. Practice sitting in a chair and standing up without using your hands. Repeat the movement three times in a row, several times a day.
Challenge your balance.
Once you can do the exercises without wobbling or support, increase the number of repetitions from five to 10. For an added degree of difficulty, complete the exercises with your eyes closed or stand on an uneven surface, such as a pillow, bosu-type ball, or balance board. ALWAYS make sure you are in a safe place in case you lose your balance.
Strengthening your core will improve your balance.
Plank exercises help you increase your core muscle strength, which helps your health in many ways, including helping you achieve better balance.
- Lie flat with your chest to the floor.
- Look down with your head and neck in a straight but comfortable position.
- Place your feet hip-width apart.
- Raise yourself up on your toes and forearms.
- Make sure your elbows are directly under your shoulders, and your palms are flat on the floor.
- Keep your back straight; take care not to sag in the middle.
Start by holding the plank for five seconds. Lower yourself back down to the floor. Repeat five times with the proper form to complete one set. As you grow stronger, increase your hold time by five-second increments until you can hold yourself in the proper position for 20 seconds.
The plank is a challenging move. If you cannot do the plank with proper form, modify the exercise by keeping your knees and shins on the floor as you lift up onto your forearms.
How do balance exercises work?
Balance exercises help support and enhance your body’s muscle memory and response. As you lose and regain your balance, your body uses micromovements to correct and sustain your position. These tiny adjustments help strengthen and train muscle fibers, leading to better reflexes.
Your body senses your position in the world through proprioceptors. These special receptors found in your musculoskeletal systems — your joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and your skin – tell your brain where your body is relative to the things around it.
Each time you move, your brain receives added information to create a new response or reflex. Balance training can keep your brain and muscles ready to keep you balanced.
If you experience severe or sudden dizziness while exercising, move to a safe position, and call your health care provider as soon as possible. Explain what you were doing and include any other notable details present at the time you experienced the dizziness.