Balance comes naturally for young people, and most of them take it for granted. Later in life, however, it assumes center stage as one of the most important physical abilities that a person must possess in order to retain a quality lifestyle. The question usually arises in the late fifties or early sixties. After that, even the most active individuals begin avoiding the riskier tasks, like cleaning second-story gutters and trimming lofty branches from trees.
A lifestyle-altering event for older people is when they can no longer drive. At that point, they are forced to rely on others to haul them around, and such dependency changes their lives forever. When they finally move in with family members or into assisted-living situations, the diminution of life quality is dramatic.
Fortunately, however, some simple exercises exist that can substantially postpone the dreaded moment of checking in the car keys. Engaging in some selected activities for a few minutes daily allows the retention of one’s balance and may result in being able to drive a car into one’s nineties and beyond.
If you suspect that you have balance problems involving vertigo, ear infections, chronic dizziness, or prescription-drug side effects, be sure to see your doctor before doing any of these exercises.
Here are some suggested activities that will improve your balance:
Beginning Balance Exercises
Crawling is an excellent way to improve balance. At first some folks, especially those who are overweight, find getting on the floor to be challenging. Others think it’s too silly to try. If you crawl for just a few seconds several times daily, however, you’ll find that your balance and agility will improve markedly. Just get down on all fours, crawl a couple of meters across the carpet, and get up. If you don’t do anything else on this list, crawl every day, and positive results will be forthcoming.
2. Getting up from the floor
Many older people lose their abilities to get up once they are on the floor. They may be able to do it by grabbing chairs, sofa arms, or door jams, but getting up without holding onto something is beyond them. Sitting on the floor a couple of times a day and then standing up without using anything as a crutch will make you stronger, increase your self-confidence, and improve your balance.
3. High stepping (marching)
Marching in place contributes to your balance as well as your flexibility and posture. Lift one knee to waist level, lower it, raise the other, and repeat. High stepping for only a few minutes a day will help you develop and keep your sense of balance. Doing it to music makes the experience even more enjoyable.
4. Bending at the waist and moving in a circle
This is a classic and has been used in gym classes as a warm-up exercise for decades. Bend forward at the waist, rotate to the right, bend backward, and then lean to the left. The magic of this movement is that the rotation puts your head into a variety of positions, improving your balance.
5. Standing on one leg
If necessary, stabilize yourself by holding onto a chair or other support as you stand first on one foot and then the other. Place the bottom of your lifted foot on the inside of the knee of the leg that’s planted. Then work on weaning yourself from the support. Do it for thirty seconds on each side a couple of times a day. Healthy people whose balance is unimpaired can do this for a long time. This activity is easy and effective for improving balance.
6. Focusing the eyes
Choose a spot in the distance and another close to you, then focus your vision on one and switch to the other. Focus on the object just as long as it takes for your eyes to adjust to the new distance, and then change. The alternation should be fairly rapid. This exercise will improve your vision as well as your sense of equilibrium.
7. Walking heel to toe
Walk in a straight line by placing one foot directly in front of the other. As you go about your daily activities, you can practice on curbs, concrete car stops, and other straight lines you encounter. Take every opportunity to signal to your body that you want to do a variety of physical activities and that you’re willing to work all the time to improve.
Intermediate Balance Exercises
The spinning and twirling of dancing contributes to a good sense of balance. Salsa and swing dancing are particularly effective, and square dancing also requires circling and swinging. Dancing is an enjoyable way to stay in shape and maintain balance.
9. Putting on socks while standing
This one is similar to standing on one foot (see #4), but executing it requires additional agility and balance. Although putting your socks on while standing takes practice, you’ll soon master it and benefit from the improved balance it affords.
Advanced Balance Exercises
10. Bouncing or jogging on a fitness trampoline
You can purchase a fitness trampoline in the sporting-goods departments of many stores. Running in place or bouncing up and down on one of these miniature trampolines is great exercise and excellent for balance. Some of them have handlebars to hold onto as you run or bounce, but you should ensure that the bars are stable before using them. If not, place a support nearby to grab in case you need it.
11. Executing a forward roll
At first, doing forward rolls might make you dizzy. Many people feel no such effect, however, and often they are the ones who seek the wilder rides at amusement parks. If you have not done a forward roll for several years, you should start gradually, perhaps putting your head to the floor for a few seconds and then straightening up to see how you feel. Working up to doing the first one might take several days or even a couple of weeks, but the results will make the effort worth it.
12. Standing on your head
For folks who are older or who have never tried it, doing a headstand is an advanced exercise. Gradually working up to a full headstand is the best practice, but once you’re able to do it, the benefits are multiple. I plan to publish an article about the advantages of doing headstands, so here, I’ll simply state that regularly standing on your head will improve your balance.
Using common sense when doing these exercises is important. As you get older, mistakes become more costly. Falling while doing a balance exercise that is supposed to help you avoid falling would be tragically counterproductive. No matter what your age, you should start with the simpler, safer activities and only engage in the intermediate and advanced ones when you’re ready. Regularly doing balance-related exercises will contribute positively to your overall physical conditioning and extend the years that you will be able to enjoy living independently.
Thank you for reading Indoor Exercises For Retaining Your Balance ©, by Douglas R. Eikermann