In the BalanceHow to avoid falls and improve grace and agility
Ever wonder why you can stand upright with minimal effort, or why you can bend over and then intuitively know how to get back into an upright position? It’s all about balance, and balance is an amazingly complex skill. Even the simplest task, such as standing upright, requires that several body systems work together, providing continuous feedback about body position and orientation. And the fact that we (or some of us!) can learn to do a back flip on a balance beam is a testament to not only how complex these systems are, but also how much our ability to balance can be improved.
Though people often assume their balance will get worse as they age, most decline is preventable: A sedentary lifestyle and associated conditions such as obesity and muscle weakness are the main culprits.
But there’s a way to improve balance, and it doesn’t involve running marathons or even leaving your house. Research has shown that the muscles of the calf and ankle are especially important for maintaining balance and recovering lost balance quickly. Exercises to strengthen these muscles aren’t usually emphasized in workouts, so here’s a few to help you get started.
- Front shin: Sitting in a supportive chair, place your right heel on top of your left foot. Push down with your right heel while pushing up with the left foot. Hold for 5 seconds; relax. Do 3 to 5 times on each side.
- Outer shin: Place the same chair near a wall so that the outside of your right foot is flush with the wall. Keeping feet flat on the floor, push your right foot against the wall. Hold for 5 seconds; relax. Do 3 to 5 times on each side.
- Inner shin: Stand or sit with feet flat on the floor, the insides of feet touching. Keeping your foot flat on the floor, push your right foot against your left foot. Hold for 5 seconds; relax. Do 3 to 5 times on each side.
- With your eyes open and arms out to the sides at shoulder height, stand on your left leg. Keeping your right knee bent, slowly lift your right leg until the thigh is horizontal.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds, then repeat on the other side. 3. Perform at least 5 repetitions on each leg.
Single-Leg Stance to Lunge
- With eyes open, stand on your left leg. Hold your arms out to the sides at shoulder height. Bend your right knee, and slowly lift your right leg until the thigh is horizontal. Do 3 full rotations of the right ankle.
- Slowly lower your right leg, and then extend it behind you until you are in a lunge position.
- Hold lunge for 3 seconds.
- Bring right leg up so you are standing straight; repeat sequence on other side.
- Do 3 full sequences on both legs.
Jessica Smith has a master’s degree in bioengineering. She holds certifications from the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America and the American College of Sports Medicine.