Ryan Coleman, NSCA-CSCS
Integrating balance exercises into your fitness routine is important at any age. Although we tend to focus a lot on aerobic exercise and strength training, practicing your balance will help align your muscular system. This is great for stability and will help prevent future injuries. Whether you need to work on going up and down the stairs or want to improve your balance for all that mountain climbing you do, there’s no better time to start than now.
Looking to boost your balance? Here’s some more information about how and why to ground yourself and grow stronger:
Why is balance important for my overall health and fitness?
When we think of exercise, we tend to think of sweating on the treadmill or doing that third set of bicep curls, but balance also is key to staying healthy and fit for several reasons. For one, having a strong sense of balance helps you maintain good posture. Especially as we grow older, poor posture can have many negative effects, including headaches, neck and back pain, and hip and knee problems.
Additionally, balance helps strengthen certain areas of your body, including your abdominal and leg muscles, and increases your coordination. Regularly performing balance exercises also greatly reduces the risk of falls, according to the American Heart Association. Lastly, the benefits of balance include improvements in reaction times, enhanced athletic performance and even increased cognitive function.
What are some of the factors that cause poor balance?
Many factors can cause someone to suffer from poor balance. Dysfunction of the vestibular system of the inner ear, vision impairment and problems with proprioception(such as peripheral neuropathy) can all contribute to poor balance. Beyond that, other factors may include a decrease in physical activity, failure to move in all three planes of motion, poor core strength and, in more serious cases, some neurological disorders.
How can you tell how good your balance is?
Before beginning a new exercise routine, it’s best to get a sense of how good your balance is. Not only will you have a starting place to compare your progress to later, but you’ll also prevent a situation in which you may injure yourself. If you’re someone who feels weak and wobbly on their feet, then it’s always advisable that you perform these exercises in a safe, padded area and in the company of others.
After taking any necessary precautions, a simple balance test is relatively easy to perform. Try standing on one foot while keeping your eyes closed. This will quickly shed light on how good or bad your balance really is. Tracking the time you’re able to remain in this position also will reveal your functional age in regards to balance. Note: If this test feels too difficult for you, try it with your eyes open instead.
What are some ways to improve my balance?
As stated above, standing on one leg for time can be very beneficial. Depending on your fitness state, try an allotted number of seconds or minutes on each leg at first. If this exercise is hard for you, try 10 seconds. If this feels easy, push yourself to 30 seconds, a minute, two minutes, or beyond. Just remember to keep the exercise equal on both sides.
Beyond balancing on one leg, here are some more great balance exercises: