Today’s papers are full of a study on balance which found that people over the age of 50 who can’t stand on one leg for 10 seconds or longer were nearly twice as likely to die within a decade*. The test people were asked to do was to stand on one leg placing the front of their free leg against the back of the leg that was touching the ground. Why don’t you try it and see how you get on.
Lots of things contribute to good balance including muscle strength (especially those ‘core’ muscles that wrap around your middle), joint stability, eyesight, hearing, and your body’s so call sixth sense proprioception. They must all be constantly talking to each other, processing feedback and making micro adjustments for you to walk across the street with confidence and without tripping. It’s frankly remarkable that we manage at all – so much is involved in even the simplest movements. However good balance is fundamental to our wellbeing is the framework and enables us to go about our active daily lives with assurance and without fear of falling.
Lack of balance is rarely the cause of ill-health, but it is a strong marker for it. Injury, disease and certain drugs can affect balance, but age is a key factor, so once we pass 50 we should be building daily balance exercises into our lives. Here’s some ways you can improve your balance:
- Stand on one leg – a good time to do this is whilst you’re cleaning your teeth. According to one newspaper, there’s evidence that standing on each leg for 60 seconds three times daily improves hip bone density of people in their 70s, reducing the risk of fracture if you fall. Doing the single leg stand whilst cleaning your teeth will ensure you build it into your daily routine. If you find a single leg stand easy, do it with your eyes closed.
- Walk a straight line, placing the heel of one foot directly in front of the toes of the other foot. Walk at least twenty steps. Now try doing this in reverse, walking backwards. If you find this easy try doing it with your eyes closed.
- Start Nordic walking regularly. In 2018 Public Health England issued advice on what we should be doing and which activities are best for balance and, no surprises, it specifically recommended Nordic walking.