How to improve balance?

One of the questions I’m often asked is how to improve balance.

I provide several exercise classes every week for people over 50 on the QLD Sunshine Coast. These Strength and Stability classes draw people aged into their eighties.

Invariably there is someone who has experienced a fall, and wants to avoid it happening again. There are lots of different techniques to improve balance, but they all rely on the same principle.

That is, to improve your balance you have to challenge it

This doesn’t mean flirting with a fall necessarily, but it does mean working at the point where you begin to feel a bit wobbly. Everyone will find that wobble at a slightly different place, but it’s crucial if you want to become more stable.

It is the act of correcting the wobble that really improves your balance, so here are a few tips to try in finding, and thereby improving, your own wobbly point.

Obviously safety is important, so make sure you have whatever support you might need, like a chair or handrail, and begin slowly, with the easy exercises first to ensure you stay upright.

1. Begin by standing with your feet about shoulder width apart and stand up tall.

This, for most healthy, able-bodied people is a stable position, but if you generally need a walking stick or frame, simply standing unaided might be more than enough of a challenge for you. If that’s you, keep close to a support, and work on spending more and more time upright without that aid, before moving on to anything more challenging.

2. If you are steady try bringing your feet together. A slightly narrower base will increase the level of difficulty.

If this is still easy you can try closing your eyes, gently and briefly, to begin searching for that wobbly point. Try lifting your arms out to the side. First move one arm, then the other, always coming back to your support if you need to.

3. Once you feel comfortable, try lifting one foot up off the ground, and hold for up to 40 seconds.

This changes not only your base of support, but also your weight distribution, so will help many people find that wobble. When you have tried to stand on one foot for a little while, switch to the other. We all have better balance on one side than the other, and most of us will begin on our good side. Remember to practice balancing on your bad side, perhaps even more so, otherwise it will just fall further behind as your good side improves.

Once you feel relatively comfortable with these static balances, you can start playing with movement as well. Try:

  • Lifting and moving your non-support leg
  • Slowly moving your arms around your head
  • Change your gaze by looking up and down, side to side, or even close your eyes
  • Move your head around

These gentle movement can all significantly increase the difficulty and can lead to quite fast improvements if you practice them consistently.

To get these fast improvements you should train your balance everyday

I take 40 seconds on each leg while I am brushing my teeth or waiting for the kettle to boil (I drink a lot of tea, so this works well for me).

Practicing your balance every day will lead to faster progress. As will adding even harder exercises that are more and more dynamic.

Of course, if you’re not confident where to start, or want some feedback, give me a call or you’re welcome to attend one of the eight Strength and Stability classes I offer every week on the Sunshine Coast. Check out the Classes page to find a session near you.