My balance story, plus a balance test for you

If you’re like many people, you may not think much about your balance. I know I didn’t–until I discovered I had a balance problem.

Your sense of balance is incredibly important to your health and vitality. A strong sense of balance is key to moving with greater confidence and ease, whether you’re on the tennis court, skiing or walking with a friend.  You can stand up while taking off your shoes. You don’t need handrails to use stairs. You might even walk on tightropes.

If your balance is not so hot, you’re at greater risk of falling, and getting a heckuva bruise, a sprain or a broken bone. Unfortunately, if you’re uncertain about your ability to balance, chances are that you become less active… and being sedentary worsens your balance. This is NOT what we want to happen! 

My story

I first noticed my balance issue a few years back. I was in the kitchen sipping coffee and reading the Wall Street Journal when my daughter showed me a simple balance exercise from her fencing class. She demonstrated by standing with her feet together, then lifting one foot up and holding it up for a minute.

“Your turn, Mom,” said my daughter.

No problem-o.

I stood. Lifted my foot.  And immediately wobbled and swayed. I quickly put my foot down.

What?  OMG, I’d nearly fallen!

I tried again. I wobbled, swayed and started to tip again.

The same thing with my other foot.

Holy moly! What in the world was going on? How could my balance have gotten that crummy?

I was merely in my 40s. Not some advanced age decades into my future.

Plus, I was athletic.  I jogged, did pushups, hiked and more.

But my balance apparently sucked.

How could this be? I should be able to balance on one foot for a few seconds, for gosh sake!

Turns out that I had balance problems for years without knowing it.

BALANCE GOING BAD

There’s no flashing sign to warn you of bad balance. Rather, bad balance sneaks up on you. Which is so NOT FAIR.

 Still, there were clues.  I slid and fell on icy sidewalks several times one winter, but I blamed glare ice, not my balance.  I also fell off a fallen log into the creek that I was trying to cross.

Awareness is  key

Once I learned I had a balance problem, I could start working to improve it. It’s taken me lots of practice over years, but I got my balance back. In fact, I work on it every day because I never want to lose my balance again.  (I’ve not fallen on icy sidewalks for a few winters.)

So if you’ve got balance issues, I totally understand. 

Here’s the balancing exercise my daughter showed me. It’s one way I regularly work on my balance. Take it to test your balance; do it regularly do improve your balance.

Standing balancing test 

  • Focus your gaze on a point a few feet away that doesn’t move. Locking your gaze at one point will help with your balance
  • Lift one foot up a few  inches
  • Stand on one leg for up to a minute or so
  • Repeat on the other side

Results

  • Too easy? You’ve got great balance. Try practicing with your eyes closed
  • Too hard? It’s time to work on your balance. Use a wall, counter or chair for support. Try letting go with one hand. If that works for you, experiment with briefly letting go with both hands
  • If you can’t stand on one leg for minute, work up to a minute over time
  • Practice regularly, but not constantly. Your brain’s cerebellum, which controls balance, needs to rest between balance workouts

Moving and staying active 

Tai chi is one of the best ways to improve balance, according to the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School, and others. Tai chi’s gentle, slow, continuous movements build muscle strength and coordination, sensory awareness and other elements of balance.

Standing balancing exercises help.  Tai chi puts it all together, and gives you other benefits, too.

I do tai chi every day, along with other balancing practices. Now that I’ve got my balance, I want to keep it –and improve it!

Your turn

Try balancing on one leg for 30 seconds. Did you find this easy, did you wobble, or did you find this challenging? Leave a comment below.

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Comments

  1. says

    This is SO timely. I am already starting to experience balancing problems (30s) and I chalked it up to persistent headaches and migraines. Never really even thought it could be related to age! (yikes). I’m going to start practicing more on my balance and integrating more balancing postures into yoga. Great article!

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