Easy ways to improve your balance
The body systems responsible for balance can be affected by gradual changes due to aging or side effects of medications. There are also a host of health problems that can lead to unsteadiness on your feet. But many stability problems caused by aging or conditions such as arthritis, stroke, Parkinson's disease, or multiple sclerosis respond well to exercises designed to improve balance.
Most likely, you already engage in some activities that help sharpen balance, especially if you're an active person. Other balance-strengthening activities are routinely taught in classes held at many YMCAs and senior centers. For example:
- Walking, biking, and climbing stairs strengthen muscles in your lower body. A recumbent bike or stair stepper is a safe way to start if your balance needs a lot of work.
- Stretching loosens tight muscles, which can affect posture and balance.
- Yoga strengthens and stretches tight muscles while challenging your static and dynamic balance skills.
- Tai chi moves, which involve gradual shifts of weight from one foot to another combined with rotating the trunk and extending the limbs, offer a series of challenges to improve your balance.
What if you're not at all active? Research shows that the right exercises can help sedentary folks dramatically improve their strength and balance at any age or ability level.
For workouts proven to help hone your balance, buy Better Balance, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
Why good posture matters
"Stand up straight." That's timeless advice we've probably all heard at one time or another. It's worth heeding. Good posture is important to balance: by standing up straight, you center your weight over your feet. This also helps you maintain correct form while exercising, which results in fewer injuries and greater gains. And working on balance can even strengthen your abilities in tennis, golf, running, dancing, skiing — and just about any other sport or activity.
Not an athlete? It still pays to have good balance. Just walking across the floor or down the block requires good balance. So do rising from a chair, going up and down stairs, toting packages, and even turning to look behind you.
Poor posture isn't necessarily a bad habit, either. Physical reasons for poor posture include:
- Inflexible muscles that decrease range of motion (how far a joint can move in any direction). For example, overly tight, shortened hip muscles tug your upper body forward and disrupt your posture. Overly tight chest muscles can pull your shoulders forward.
- Muscle strength affects balance in a number of ways. The "core muscles" of the back, side, pelvis, and buttocks form a sturdy central link between your upper and lower body. Weak core muscles encourage slumping, which tips your body forward and thus off balance. Strong lower leg muscles also help keep you steady when standing.
The good news: You can improve your posture with a few simple exercises. Balance-specific workouts address posture and balance problems with exercises that build strength where it counts and stretches that loosen tight muscles. Quick posture checks in the mirror before and during balance exercises can also help you get the most from your regular workout. And increasing your core strength and flexibility can help you improve your posture noticeably in just a few weeks.
Good posture means:
When sitting down, keep your chin parallel to the floor; your shoulders, hips, and knees at even heights; and your knees and feet pointing straight ahead.
For more on improving your balance, buy Better Balance, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
|•||How balance works|
|•||SPECIAL BONUS SECTION: Preventing falls|
|•||Activities that enhance balance|
|•||Starting balance workouts safely|
|•||... and more!|
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