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Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Life - December 2009

It's a Matter of Balance
Include Flexibility and Posture in Your Fitness Routine

Most people know that strength and cardiovascular training have health benefits, helping to maintain your weight, as well as decreasing your chances of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A serious fitness buff can no doubt tell you how much he can lift or how fast he can run. But odds are he probably couldn't tell you how long he can stand on one foot. The sad truth is that many people ignore the value balance and flexibility training can provide to their overall health. You can be strong and aerobically fit, yet still have poor balance.

Balance is one of the skills that can deteriorate as we age. How good is your balance?Balance is one of the skills that can deteriorate as we age. How good is your balance? To find out, try this test. In a safe environment with something or someone to grab onto if you need to, stand on one leg and shut your eyes. If you can't stand steadily on one leg for at least 15 seconds, then you need to improve your balance.

Balance training teaches your brain how to quickly activate the correct muscles at the right time to keep you upright and stable. Unlike strength and cardiovascular training, balance exercises primarily train the nervous system. Your heart rate won't rise, you won't sweat and you won't get tired when doing balance exercises. If you have a floor to stand on and about 10 minutes a day, you have all the equipment you need.

Try these balance exercise at home or at work - some can even be done while you are out-and-about shopping, visiting or running errands:

  • Stand on one foot for as long as you can. Try to increase your time from day to day and week to week.
  • Consciously roll your foot from heel to toe when you walk.
  • Using a sturdy chair, practice standing up and sitting down without using your hands. As you get better at this, add a challenge by using shorter chairs.
  • Stand on a cushion or pillow for increasing periods of time. Doing so will help strengthen your leg and core muscles necessary for good balance.
  • Walk backwards. This forces you to use your muscles in ways you may not be used to.

Your posture - how you hold your body - also is an important part of balance, but often worsens with age. Over time, your body will tend to bend forward, which moves your center of balance, makes you less stable and increases your risk of falling. Pay attention to your posture regularly and practice aligning your earlobe over the middle of your shoulders, your shoulders over your hip joint, and your hips about an inch in front of your ankle joints. For the best posture, your shoulders should be back and down, with the chin and chest slightly up and the waist tucked in.

If you are looking for more challenging and organized ways to improve your posture, balance and flexibility, you still need to look no further than your living room. Many new video games, such as those available for the Nintendo Wii system, approach physical fitness with balance in the forefront and are gaining popularity with gamers and casual fitness fans of all ages. Also, tai chi and yoga help to develop balance and flexibility and can be done at home with video instruction, though you may see increased benefits from more formal, in-person training.

The benefits of improved balance and flexibility aren't easy to see, but they are easy to feel. With better balance and posture over time, you will reduce back and joint pain, become steadier on your feet and reduce your risk of falls and fractures.