As we age, our ability to balance declines rapidly due to a decrease in overall strength, stability, and flexibility, reduced reflexes, and a decrease in the functioning of your vestibular system, which is used to maintain your balance and spatial orientation. This increased risk of falling as you age is accompanied by an increased risk of a serious, life-altering injury occurring from a fall, as your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones weaken with age.
No matter your age, balance is required for a good quality of life. You cannot live life to the fullest unless you can be confident that you can perform simple daily tasks, like taking a shower, without risk of a fall and serious injury. Avoiding unnecessary and damaging falls is extremely important to your long-term health.
Luckily, your balance can be easily trained throughout your life with very little risk of injury. Balance training will increase your quality of life and overall well-being because you can be confident that you can complete all of the daily tasks that you enjoy without fear of falling.
Test your Balance
For a simple test of your balance, stand next to a railing, table, counter, or another stable surface. Slowly lift one leg up in front of you, and attempt to balance on the other leg. Make sure to have your hands ready to grasp the surface if you feel like you may fall. If you do not feel safe or confident while doing this, have someone behind you, ready to grab you if you begin to fall.
If you feel confident balancing on one leg with your eyes open, you can progress to trying to balance on one leg with your eyes closed. Again, be sure that you have stable surface nearby to grasp if you feel unsafe or like you're going to fall. Did you wobble or feel unstable? If you did, your ability to balance definitely needs work.
Training to Improve your Balance
Training to improve your balance does not need to be complicated or strenuous. The first step in improving your balance is to simply increase the amount that you exercise. If you are typically sedentary, any type of exercise where you are on your feet will improve your balance, strength, joint stability, flexibility, and confidence with daily movement.
Light strength training with weights or just your body weight will improve your strength, stability, and balance as you must maintain balance and good posture throughout the movements. Low-intensity aerobic exercise where you are standing, like walking, Zumba, group fitness classes, and low-intensity sports have the most beneficial effects on your balance. They imitate the most important daily movements you will need to perform and will help maintain your balance, reflexes, physical endurance, and overall health.
Finally, practicing the one-leg balance test mentioned earlier is a good option that can be completed in just a few minutes per day. Complete three to five sets for each leg once or twice per day. Time yourself for each set. Record how long you could balance before having to put the other foot down, and try to beat yourself each session. As you improve, try closing your eyes.
Balance can be improved throughout your life, all it requires is a little time and effort. Start investing in your ability to balance now, and you may save yourself from a life-altering injury from a fall in the future.