From lunges to step-ups, seven ways to improve your balance
Poor balance is associated with elderly people, but deterioration can start earlier
Exercises such as lunges and squats will help to make you stronger, increase your range of motion and challenge your balance. Photograph: iStock
1) Work on it, for the sake of your social life
Ageing often leads to a loss of balance, which can result in an increased risk of falls. But, as a report from the Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago showed, a lack of balance has other consequences. “A tendency to lose balance among elderly people often results in an overall reduction in the level of physical activity,” it says, “and to a decreased ability to function satisfactorily in social roles”.
2) Eliminate medical issues
Ear infections, vertigo and medications, including some antidepressants, antihistamines and pain relief, can cause problems with your “vestibular function” – the system in your inner ear that aids balance and spatial orientation. You should always see a doctor if you experience any sudden, unusual or severe problems with your balance.
3) Strength training
Balance can start to deteriorate in your mid-20s. However, strength training can help, whatever your age. A 2013 study that examined the effects of strengthening exercises on balance concluded: “Improvement in lower limb strength may lead to balance enhancement in neurologically intact older people.”
4) Be a flamingo
Simple balance and proprioception exercises can be done at home without the need for equipment. Try alternate balancing on one leg (bending the standing leg slightly at the knee will help if you are wobbly, as will focusing on a stationary point in front of you). Closing your eyes makes it much harder. Most people are “better” on one leg than the other – single leg exercises can help to strengthen the weaker side.
Using a single step or stair, step up with your right leg in a slow and controlled manner, then bring your left leg up to join it. Step down and repeat, alternating leading legs. To make it more difficult, find a higher step or use a box in the gym. This simple exercise helps to build hip stability, as well as strengthening knees.
6) Sit down
Sitting on a stability ball challenges your core and balance. Start with your arms by your sides and your feet on the floor, then lift and extend your right leg while raising your left arm to shoulder height. Return to a sitting position, then do the same on the other side. Repeat 10 times. Note, though, that a study at the University of Waterloo in Canada concluded there is no benefit to sitting on a ball all day instead of an office chair.
7) Bodyweight exercises
Exercises such as lunges and squats will help to make you stronger, increase your range of motion and challenge your balance. Good form is important to maximise benefits. For a squat, stand with feet facing forward, hip distance apart. Making sure not to arch your back, hinge at the hips and push them back – imagine there is a chair behind you that you are about to sit on. Keep your abs engaged and don’t go too low if it causes your back to arch. Hold for a couple of seconds, then drive up through your heels, back to standing.