You spent your thirties and forties trying to sort out your work/life balance. But suddenly you're in your fifties or sixties, and maintaining physical balance becomes a much more important consideration. Maybe you or someone you know has taken a spill on the stairs or an icy sidewalk. It only takes one balance scare to make you limit your activities and feel suddenly old.
It's surprisingly easy to regain your sense of balance, and like so many things, it mostly requires attention and practice. Here are six tips to help you regain a feeling of stability.
1. Check with your doctor. First, rule out vision problems, inner ear problems or drug interactions that can interfere with your body's balance mechanisms. It's not unusual for a medical condition to be the source of dizziness or difficulty balancing.
2. Build a strong core. Think of your core muscles as the foundation of your skeleton. Develop endurance in your core muscles first to feel more stable and centered. The muscles in your abdomen and back act like a corset supporting your entire body as it moves in all directions. As you begin to develop endurance in your core, continue with more advanced core stability moves.
3. Develop the muscles in your lower body. You need strength and endurance in the large muscles of your lower body to maintain mobility and independence. But for better balance, you also need to challenge the smaller stabilizer muscles in the hips, knees and ankles. Try this: stand on one leg with a slight bend in the ankle and knee. Feel the twitching at the joints? Those are stabilizer muscles doing their job.
4. Develop your body awareness. Few of us ever take a moment to stop and find our center of gravity. Try this simple exercise: Stand with feet hip distance apart. Try to balance your weight side to side between your right and left foot and front to back between the toes and heels of each feet. Try to hold perfectly still. You'll find that you can only stay still if both your weight and your energy are perfectly centered. Now experiment with shifting your weight from side to side and front to back. Feel the range of motion you can achieve before you tip. Finally, try shifting your weight completely onto one foot, and feel the difference in your knees and ankles.
6. Develop static balance first, then progress to moving balance. Develop static balance by gradually reducing your base of support. Start with feet wide, then narrow, then one foot immediately in front of the other, toes to heel. Finally, work on balancing on one foot. Once your static balance is good, start adding motion. Try standing on one leg and rotating your torso, or reaching above and below shoulder height.
Improving your balance can take weeks of dedicated practice, but I've seen even the oldest and frailest clients make big strides. It's important to train the muscles involved in balance, but don't forget that a big part of balance is training the brain to believe that the muscles will hold you steady--and that takes time. Be patient and stick with it, because you won't believe the confidence boost you'll get when you feel steady on your feet.
(photo credit: By George Barker [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)