I’m in good shape—I exercise five days a week, and I try to eat well. I usually do cardio and weights and stretch on my own, but recently went to a yoga class and was shocked at how challenging it was! Seriously, I can’t balance on one leg—at all. Is that a problem? How can I improve my balance? —Jane M.
Aging and Balance
Listen, you don’t have to be as graceful as a prima ballerina—but balance and proprioception (the awareness of your body in space) are pretty important. As our bodies age our ability to balance declines steadily. And that can have serious implications: One in four adults over age 65 takes a serious fall every year, which can result in fractures, permanent disabilities, and even death.
It might sound silly, especially if you’re young and fit, but the best way to prevent a fall in the future is to work on your balance now. It’s not as simple as it looks; static balancing on one foot requires strength and endurance in the smaller connecting muscles in the legs and core. Compound movements that end in a balance require coordination and strength—which will help you in later in life, for sure, but can also increase athleticism now.
Balance Exercises (for seniors too!)
Give these a try during your next workout, after you’ve warmed up or right before you begin to cool down. No worries if you can’t do them perfectly the first time—as you integrate them into your exercise regimen, balancing will become easier.
Balancing knee lift
This will work the muscles around your hips and lower abdominals in addition to your balancing leg muscles.
Stand on your left leg. Bend the right knee and lift it up so your thigh is parallel to the floor. Hold here, or make it harder by pulsing your right thigh: up an inch, then lowering down an inch. Repeat for one minute, then switch to the other leg.
Side kick and touch back
A little more challenging, because it involves more movement through space, this exercise is fun, too.
Stand on the right leg, with your toes pointing straight forward ahead of you. Hold your arms out to a “T.” Now, kick your left leg out, trying to tap your left toes to your left fingertips. Then, bend your standing leg (or else you will definitely lose your balance!) and tap your left toes to your right fingertips. You’ll have to bend to the side in order to make this happen—no biggie. Repeat 15 times on the same leg, then switch to the other.
Lunge back and kick
This movement will get your thighs burning—not a bad thing!
Step your right foot directly back behind you, landing in a low lunge with both knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Hold for one count, and then transfer your weight fully onto the left leg, driving your right knee up toward your chest and kicking your leg straight out. Repeat 15 times on one leg, then switch to the other.
Challenge the muscles in your posterior chain—the glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae—because they’re basically the only thing keeping you upright!
To complete a one-legged deadlift, stand evenly on both feet. Keeping your body rigid, bend at the hips and tap the ground, kicking your right leg straight back behind you. Return to standing. Make this more challenging by holding a 5- to 10-lb weight in your hands as you touch the ground. Repeat 20 times, then switch to the other leg.