Okay; let’s talk about better balance! First off, good balance is a learned behavior; we are not born knowing how to balance, we practice it until we get good at it. And if we don’t continue to practice our balance, we will lose that ability.
While you may know how to balance intellectually, our body doesn’t work that way. The brain/body connection only works when it’s trained through repetition. It is black and white: You can train your body for better balance, or you can ignore it and get better at not balancing. It is a choice. So why DON’T most older adults do balance exercises if they work so well and are so easy? Because most people don’t understand the paradox of balance.
The paradox of balance is this: In order to gain better balance, we have to practice balancing. Practicing balance means challenging your balance, and that means feeling off balance. In a nutshell, who wants to spend time doing anything that makes us feel like we’re off balance? Even if it’s safe?
This makes older adults do other physical activities and say, “Hey I’m walking every day, and I do my balancing then…”, or “I carry all my grocery bags, and open the door up- isn’t that balancing?”. While balance is included in these activities, most everyday activities do not improve balance. This is because the finer balancing muscles and nerves do not receive maximum stimulation if you’re busy doing something else. They need to be done on their own. (Unless you do activities like Tai Chi or Yoga that are designed to challenge balance. Therefore; walking DOES NOT COUNT as a balancing improving exercise!)
This collection of 5 simple balancing exercises is my favorite. I have spent 20+ years helping thousands of older adults improve their balance with this list. Please print it out or copy it and put it somewhere you can see it. I recommend you put this list into a plastic sheet protector and keep in your kitchen.
Where: I recommend that you perform these exercises in your kitchen as well, using the sink as a place to hold onto. (Assuming your sink is solid and in place.)
When: I recommend these be done first thing in the morning to start your day off with the best balance possible.
For How Long: 5 minutes is more than enough time, though I go through them myself in only a couple of minutes. And that’s not because of my age, it’s because I have done them thousands of times! (Each exercise usually takes no longer than a minute, or 30 seconds on each leg.)
• Practice only well lit areas.
• Practice by holding onto the edge of your sink, with your fingers facing downward over the lip: The sink is ideal because you have something to grab onto, especially if you fall sideways. Flat surfaces, while providing a steady surface going forward, can’t prevent you from falling sideways.
• Practice only with objects that can’t move. The back of a chair will usually move and is not a great choice.
Exercise #1: The Sink Up and Down Knee Bend (Facing sink)
1st set: Hold onto the sink with both hands and sink up and down by bending your knees, keeping your head up. 10 times. 2nd set: Do the same thing without holding on, but keep the hands right next to the sink, an inch above the edge.
Exercise #2: The Lift Up and Down on the Toes (Facing sink)
1st set: Hold onto the sink with both hands and lift up onto your tippy toes, keeping your head up. 10 times. 2nd set: 10 times without holding on, but keeping the hands right next to the sink, an inch above the edge.
Exercise #3: Side Leg Lifts (Facing sink)
1 set on each leg: Hold onto the sink with both hands the entire time. Lift each leg out to the side about a foot up and bring it back to the ground. 10 times on each leg.
Exercise #4 The Stand on One Foot and Release the Hands (Facing sink)
1 set on each leg: Hold onto the sink and stand on one foot. Getting your balance, quickly pick up your hands and bring them right back down onto the sink. 10 times on each leg.
Exercise #5: The Leg Swing (Standing sideways to sink)
1 set on each leg: Hold onto the sink with one hand the entire time, turning the body sideways to the sink so you can swing your leg back and forth clearly. Swing the inside leg (the one closest to the sink) 10 times back and forth. Turn the body around the other way, and repeat on the other leg, which is now the inside leg.
The advanced version of these exercises is to do the same this with your eyes closed. However, do not do these without someone with you, or if your balance is really great. Do these every day and enjoy better balance.
About John Paul Ouvrier
John Paul Ouvrier, is a fitness trainer who specializes in working with older adults. He is the author of ‘The Wizard of Youth’ series for adults and children, the creator of ‘The Wizard of Youth 4 Kids Board Game’ and the Executive Director of Fitness For Charity. His websites are: http://fitness4charity.org He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org