Good balance is not something we’re born with. Children all over the world play games to improve balance, and most of us do so until we leave school. We then enter into the world of being professionals, parents, homemakers, and we stop doing all those little things that improve balance. So what happens? Our balance gets worse as time goes by.
No one is immune to having poor balance and without proper understanding and consistent practice we will automatically lose our balance as we age. Therefore having poor balance as we age is almost a certainty for most adults. Yet for the most part, balance can be improved upon with a basic understanding of what to do. (And always check with your doctor first!)
One of the biggest things to understand is how we react to bad balance: If we have a situation where our balance is bad, more than likely, we will cease to do that activity. This is an automatic response; our body goes into automatic pilot mode and we just avoid that activity. Without knowing, we start using our hands for support and find areas in the house to hold or touch as we go by. In short, we train the balance right out of ourselves! So here’s what to do about it.
First, let’s establish a goal: We want great balance, no matter what our age, so we can retain the most amount of physical freedom we are capable of. (Not to mention not falling!) If this is our goal, then we must examine the paradox of balance.
The paradox of balance states that in order to improve balance, we must do exercises that make us feel off balance. In other words, to make your balance better you must challenge your balance, meaning you will feel like you could fall. And even if the exercises are safe enough so you won’t fall, who wants to do anything that feels unsafe? This is where adults get in trouble; we avoid the very things we need to do to help us have good balance. So let’s give you some great exercises to improve balance!
Here are the two most important balance exercises to get you started that I share in my lectures. In fact these are so successful that when I address large groups of seniors, many of them forget their canes and walkers when they leave!
Balance Rule #1: WAKE UP BEFORE YOU STAND UP!
If your body has been sitting or lying down, your feet are asleep. This means the nerves in the feet won’t tell your brain where the body is, so good balance is difficult. Most of us wake our balance up as we start to walk around, and that’s where most falls happen! So avoid this. Here’s how to ‘Wake up before you stand up’ effectively.
Tap your feet hard on the ground first for at least ten secondsStretch your legs quickly.
Roll your feet around, wiggle your toes, and straighten out the legs a few times.
Relax and breathe deeply and feel your feet as much as you can.
This can be done quickly, without calling any attention to yourself. Warning: If you don’t do this, you will one day over or under estimate where you think you are and will fall. The brain and body must connect with movement BEFORE you get up.
Balance Rule #2: UP AND DOWN KEEPS ME OFF THE GROUND!
This is important to understand and simple. Balance is movement. In order for the brain and body to connect, the body moves. This means that the secret to controlling balance throughout the day is use your legs to create movement in an ‘up and down’ pattern, rather than the typical senior drift ‘back and forth’ way.
Here’s what to do:
Stand up, keeping your weight towards the front of your feet, and sink up and down by bending the knees.
Do not duck your head or bend your back.
Let your knees bend by letting your body feel heavy and let gravity help bend your knees
Relax, breathe and feel!
Do this throughout the day to regain balance and whenever you feel off balance. If you think you could fall- bend your knees immediately!
Balance must be practiced to be improved. You will not get away without practicing balance; your balance will only get worse. Exercise alone does not do this. Next month, I will give you all a quick five minute daily balance workout you can do at your sink. Your homework now? Make ‘Wake up Before You Stand Up’ and ‘Up and Down Keeps Me Off the Ground’ part of your daily musts. Speak to your doctor about these rules of course, and share them with your friends. Here’s to better balance everyday!
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://wizardofyouth.com. & http://fitness4charity.org. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org