Employee & Community Health

Add balance to your life

1/24/2019 by Danielle Johnson, MPT

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Balance is the ability to stay upright and steady, whether you're standing, kneeling, sitting or squatting. Several systems in your body contribute to maintaining good balance. Your vision, inner ear and joint receptors provide a sense of where your body is in space. Falls are a leading cause of injury among older adults. Fear of falling is also common, but building balance skills at any age can reduce fall risk. 

Working balance training into your workout

Balance training is an essential aspect of any well-rounded fitness routine. It improves your body's ability to react quickly to everyday missteps. Incorporating balance training in your life can significantly reduce risk of falls, help maintain independence and may significantly improve performance. 

Unfortunately, depending on your exercise routine, it's often skipped or forgotten. The great news is that with a few simple exercises, balance training can easily be incorporated into your cardiovascular and resistance training sessions. 

Exercises such as step ups, lunge clocks, side walks and single-leg dead lifts all challenge your balance while building strength. Try a trail run, jumping rope or side-to-side jumps to work on balance during a cardio session. 

Just getting started? Try these tips

Balance training outside your regular workouts can be easy and fun. Aim to incorporate balance exercises tailored to your skill level into your daily activities for at least a few minutes each day. Remember safety first, you should be challenged, but not to the point that it's difficult to perform the exercises safely. You may want to start your balance exercises with a partner or by having a counter or chair back nearby for extra security. 

When getting started, give these tips a try:

Change your base of support

Start by standing with your feet close together and walk by putting one foot directly in front of the other, working your way up to balancing on one leg. 

  • Pretend you're on a balance beam. This will require you to stand with your feet closer together and to walk by putting one foot directly in front of the other. 
  • Pretend you're a flamingo. This will help you practice balancing on one foot and can be done while making dinner, watching the news or waiting for your coffee to brew. 

Change the surface

While many of us are used to standing on flat ground, part of balance training is learning to stand on uneven surfaces, try doing your exercises on different surfaces including: 

  • Pillows
  • Mats
  • Foam pads or disks
  • Balance balls flat-side down (more stable) or up (less stable)

Try standing with your feet close together or on one leg, if you're able. You also can look for variable terrain to walk on, such as a hiking trail or sandy beach. Standing on a floating dock or bridge can be a fun challenge. 

Close your eyes

Closing your eyes while balancing can be tricky, but it's a good exercise to work up to. Try closing your eyes while standing with your feet together, pretending to walk on a balance beam, balancing on one leg or walking on a varying surface. You may need to rely on a partner for support. 

Turn your head or look up and down

While engaging in the foot and leg positions previously described, turn your head or look up and down. You also can try this while balancing on an unstable surface. If you feel up to the challenge, try both at the same time while closing your eyes. 

Add movement elsewhere

While standing on one leg, put your arms out in a "T" position. Make circular motions for 30 seconds, and then try it in the opposite direction. Work your way up to increase your time. Try simultaneously turning your head side to side once this becomes easy. 

More tips for preventing falls 

Balance training is an excellent way to stay steady, upright and avoid falls. Some other tips for preventing falls include:

  • Keep moving. Physical activity can go a long way toward fall prevention. Consider activities such as walking, water workouts or tai chi. 
  • Wear sensible shoes. Consider changing your footwear as part of your fall-prevention plan. High heels, floppy slippers and shoes with slick soles can make you slip, stumble and fall. So can walking in your stocking feet. Instead, wear properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles. 
  • Take a look around your home. Remove throw rungs, electrical or phone cords from walkways, and move furniture that narrows walking paths to eliminate tripping hazards. Consider a nonslip mat in your bathtub or shower. 
  • Keep your home brightly lit to avoid tripping on hard-to-see objects. Place a night light in your bedroom, bathroom and hallways.
  • Try a balance class. Classes designed to challenge and enhance your balance include tai chi, Pilates or yoga. Balance classes are offered at some facilities. 
Danielle Johnson, MPT, is a wellness physical therapist at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program in Rochester, Minn. She specializes in combining physical therapy with whole-body wellness and integrating fundamental and natural movement patterns, as well as practical and playful movement, into daily experiences.