Even if you don’t need to walk on a tightrope every day, every person of every age needs to have good balance. In fact, it’s just as important to have good balance as it is to have healthy lungs or a well-functioning heart. Without proper balance injuries can happen and in some cases they can result in limited mobility, constant pain, or a loss of independence, particularly for seniors. In fact, falls are one of the most serious health issues facing seniors, but, even if you’re young and in great shape—if you jog, ride a bike, rock climb, or play tennis—balance is important to prevent injuries and preserve good health.
One way to improve balance is to challenge your body and improve your kinesthetic awareness (the ability to know the location of where your body parts are in a 3-dimensional space) and enhance your proprioception awareness (the ability to sense the relative position of neighboring body parts). To have good balance you also need to have strong legs and be physically fit. Many exercises that improve balance also help to strengthen your legs, and stronger legs leads to better balance.
If you want to improve your balance, there are also a number of balance training activities you can do. They are
- Bicycling. Cycling helps increases the strength in your legs, allows you to practice your balance, and as you move your head around, your improve both your kinesthetic and proprioception awareness.
- Bosu Balance Trainer Home Version. The bosu (which stands for “both sides utilized”) balance trainer is an exercise tool and a simple piece of equipment—basically a squishy dome cut in half, with a plastic platform on the other side—it can dramatically improve balance, increase strength, and boost flexibility and agility. All you do is stand on one foot and balance. It gives your ankle and leg muscles a good workout and allows you to practice balancing on an unsteady and uneven surface. Over time your balance gets better and better. I know because I’ve used one, and it works great to help with balance problems.
- Dancing. When you dance it improves your overall fitness. It also increases leg strength, balance, and coordination.
- Gardening. This activity allows you to build up your muscles and improve kinesthetic and proprioception awareness because you move in many different directions. You also work on uneven ground and that helps improve balance and coordination.
- One Foot Bend. Stand on one foot, reach forward, and touch the ground. Return to your standing position. Repeat ten times. This is an excellent exercise to improve balance and kinesthetic and proprioception awareness.
- Medicine Ball Toss. One great way to help improve balance and strenghten your legs is to toss a medicine ball. You stand on one foot and someone tosses you a medicine ball and you toss it back. Do three sets of ten tosses on each foot. When you can stand steady, increase the weight of the medicine ball.
- Tai Chi. This is slow, gentle, and flowing movements. It reduces stress, boosts circulation, enhances balance, and improves posture.
- Stand on One Foot. When you first begin, stand near a counter so if you start to fall you can grab onto the counter. Try to stand on one foot and balance for one minutes. Then change to the other foot. Eventually try to work up to five minutes. Once you’re able to stand steady, also move your head around and try to keep your balance. This will improve your kinesthetic awareness.
- Swimming. Swimming is an excellent exercise for your legs. It also helps to develop your overall fitness and leg muscles, and it involves balance to stay afloat.
- Walking. If you are already have good balance, include these activities in your walk—even and uneven surfaces and stairs; however, if you’re unsteady on your feet, you need to avoid these exercises until you’ve improved your balance. Try standing on one foot or tai chi.
- Wobble or Balance Board. The Isokinetics Deluxe Balance Board or the Balance Trainer, 16″ Beginner has a raised cone in the center and allows you to have a more challenging workout because it is an unsteady surface. Wobble boards are used for proprioceptive and rehabilitation exercise to improve balance and coordination.
To make sure your balance training is successful, you should also rule out these three things as a cause of any balance issues: dizziness, vision problems, or medications. If your balancing issues are related to dizziness, you may have a problem related to your inner ear or vertigo. To help with that type of an issue read Vertigo: Stop the Dizziness for some simple exercises you can do that may help the dizziness. Poor vision can also be an issue with balance, so make sure you’ve had a recent eye test and that your prescription is up to date. Additionally, if you take medications, make sure your doctor or pharmacist is aware of ALL your medications—both prescription and over-the-counter medications—so any interaction problems can be ruled out as a cause of your dizziness.