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How good is your balance?

As we age, our perceive that our balance can deteriorate, but it’s like anything you do, if you don’t work at it, it is a skill that we lose. Balance used a complex myriad of systems that work in synergy when we are younger, but as we get older one of the systems can fail leaving you out of kilter.

What is involved to keep your balance? You need your sensory and motor systems, including vision (needed for direction and motion), the vestibular function of the inner ear (system in your inner ear that aids balance and spatial orientation) and proprioception, the ability to sense where your body is. To stay balanced, you also need muscle strength and reaction time. And as I re-write this article to post it on my new website, I notice that I haven’t even considered feet! They are your foundations, they keep you grounded, we walk on them, support our body weight and completely ignore them.

Any of the above can become impaired. Poor balance can be due to loss of muscle strength and joint flexibility at the toe, ankle, knee or hip, as well as reduced vision and reaction time. The risk of inner ear dysfunction increases with age. Lack of exercise, alcohol, obesity, nerve damage in the lower legs, certain drugs or medical conditions, even wearing the wrong glasses and the wrong shoes, can also interfere with your balance, at any age.

Is there anything that you can do to improve your balance? YES!

When you sit on a chair, do you use your hands to help you sit or stand? Not sure? Take a look next time you sit down. This is a great way to improve your balance, practice getting in and out without your hands. It might be tough, but practice makes perfect.

If that is easy, what about sitting on the floor without using your hands. This one is much more difficult, if you can’t get to the floor first time, find something that’s lower than the chair but higher than the floor and practice on that. With practice it will become easier and then work towards the floor. If you have any joint or mobility issues, take this slowly.

There are lots of moves that you can do without the need of equipment. The first and easiest to do is stand on one leg. Time it, then do the other leg and time that. Now challenge yourself to improve your time. When that becomes too easy, you can raise the leg higher, so that the leg is at a right angle to the body, this makes the balance harder. Then you can take the leg out to the side or the back which activates different muscles. And you could try any of these with your eyes closed!

Make sure you are near a wall for support, just in case you are a bit wobbly.

Once you are accomplished at this you could rise up on your toes and mix in the leg balances. It might take a bit of time before you can shut your eyes on this one, but that would be the next step.

There are loads of ways to make the complexity of this harder, such as bending one leg up, then squatting on the other leg. Grabbing the ankle and pulling the heel towards your bottom.

How about climbing the stairs without holding the hand rail, if you can do that already take two steps at a time without the rail.

There are many sports that help with balance: Yoga, Tai Chi, Running, cycling, skipping, even walking.

The aim is to improve your lower limb strength, this will help towards enhancing your neurological motor skills. If you start now, you will improve your ability to look after yourself in later life.

Walking on rough terrain will also help, your body must adapt to keeping your ankles strong and increase your motor skills, so walking on grass or cobblestones would be another progression, once you have improved your balance using the above exercises.

If you are still finding that your balance is not improving after trying all the above, then there is most likely an underlying problem with your feet and ankles. I am fascinated by how they support us and work with my clients to improve the flexibility of their feet and ankles. Whilst we are there we also make progress with the rest of the body as they start to talk to each other.

If this sounds like you then, you may be interested in my Happy Feet Workshop, they run once every three months, check in on my event’s page to see if there is one coming up soon.

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