Training your balance at middle age is a must. I remember when I first started doing balance exercises in the gym several years ago. It was something that came to me out of the desire to increase the difficulty level of particular exercises. My aim was to add more challenging elements to the exercises I did with light weights and I really didn’t think anything of it other than it providing added variety and challenge. I would typically start by forming an exercise, doing it over and over again for weeks or months and when I got good at it, stop and move on to something else.
At middle age, I’ve decided to consistently include balance exercises in my workouts because as we age, our balance becomes less steady. If you’re a regular reader of my posts, you’ll know that I’m all about prevention and mitigating the effects of ageing. Health is by design and not an accident. Health does not decline overnight. Our balance does not decline overnight which is why we should do balance exercises at all ages. Poor functional balance is not an inevitable consequence of ageing, it’s preventable.
The great thing about our muscles is, they remember, and because of that, when I re-started one leg exercises in lockdown, using my core to stabilise myself was not too difficult. I started the same way I did years before – repeat the same exercise over and over again till I’m able to fully engage my core muscles. This takes a lot of practice. As my balance improves, I introduce other elements to the exercise which increases the difficulty level to further challenge my core muscles to work harder. I love standing on one leg and moving my legs to the beat of music. This makes balance training fun to do.
We need balance for more or less everything we do. Balance exercises help strengthen the muscles (legs and core) that control balance. At midlife and beyond most especially, we should balance train daily to improve our balance and movement, prevent injury and keep our joints stable. Moreover, the great part about balance training is, you can anchor it onto something you do daily and practice everyday. For example, when you’re brushing your teeth morning and night, cooking, watching tv or standing in a queue.
Benefits of Training Your Balance
Identifies balance issues.
When you start single leg exercises, you’ll straightaway discover if you have balance issues. Loss of balance function can occur as we age. However, like mentioned above, it is not an inevitable consequence of ageing. You can prevent or correct it.
Improves functional balance.
Almost everything we do involves balance. Because we lose muscle mass and vision as we grow older, our balance will also gradually decline if we don’t do something about it. Regular balance exercises improves our balance and reduces risk of falling and injury.
Identifies muscle imbalances.
Balance exercises can help identify muscle imbalances in the body. Muscle imbalance is when a muscle in a limb is stronger, weaker, bigger, smaller than it’s corresponding limb or side. Many of us have dominate muscles that are overused or muscles that compensate for weaker muscles. For example, a weaker leg.
Builds ankle strength.
Balance training corrects ankle instability. Ankle muscles are trained when we do balance exercises and this reduces the risk of ankle sprains.
Balance exercises involve strengthening the muscles that keep you upright. When you balance train, force your body into an upright position – Abs in, chest out, shoulders back.
Trains core muscles
Your core muscles extend from below your chest to under your Glutes (bum). Your core is your balance centre. It is where your power lies. Core muscles are also referred to as our stabiliser muscles. Core strength is connected to stability. Functional balance training works your deeper core muscles. A strong core improves mobility.
Eases back pain
Your back muscles form part of your core. Stronger core muscles can help ease back pain.
Strengthens leg muscles.
Functional balance exercises work your leg muscles. Any exercise that involves some form of resistance improves strength. Strong leg muscles support your joints which reduces risk of joint pain.
Balance training helps you work on coordination.
How do we control balance?
To maintain balance, our brain receives information from 3 sources – Eyes, Ears (vestibular system), Muscles and Joints. These 3 sources send signals to the brain through sensory receptors. The motion sensitive receptor cells in our inner ears sends information to our brain’s movement control system about our head movement. Our brain processes this information along with information received from the sensory receptors in our retina, and information from our muscles and joints to achieve balance. If there is weakness in any of these 3 information sources, we will experience balance challenges.
How to start training your balance
Do the beginner and intermediate exercises below daily. Start slowly at beginner level and as your balance gets better, challenge your balance further by increasing the difficulty level.
- Stand on one leg holding on to the back of a chair. Practice holding for 20-30secs. Repeat on other leg.
- Stand on one leg holding on to the back of a chair, add dynamic movements – extend your other leg sideways or backwards. Repeat 10 times on each leg.
- Walk in a straight line with one foot in front of the other.
- Stand up from a seated position without holding on to anything.
- Stand on one leg without holding on to anything. Practice holding for 20-30secs. Repeat on other leg.
- Stand on one leg without holding on to anything, add dynamic movements – extend your other leg sideways or backwards. Repeat 10 times on each leg.
- Walk short distances and alternate raising your knee.
- Do exercises like yoga.
- Stand on one leg, keep torso still and move your arms and free leg. Hold for 30secs – 1 min on each leg.
- Get up from a seated position using one leg without holding on to anything. Repeat 10 times on each leg.
- Split squats (Lunges).
- Single leg hops.
- Single leg skipping.
- Squat on an unstable surface like the Bosu (I’m not a fan of this).
- Throw a ball up and catch it whilst balancing on one leg.
Try the Balance Test
Set your timer, close your eyes and time how long you hold balance on each leg. Leave your results in the comment section of this post.
”There is a connection between how long you’re able to hold your balance with your eyes closed and whether you’ll have a stroke or not. “Postural instability was found to be associated with early pathological changes in the brain and functional decline, even in apparently healthy subjects.”
– American Heart Association