Improving Your Balance To Better Your Life

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Why is good balance so important?
Balance is something we use every day: while standing, while walking, when getting up from a chair or bed, when bending over to pick something up, when gardening, sports or hiking, or when lifting an object (or person). Lack of balance equates to fear of falling in older folks; they often become less active, take shorter strides, or avoid activities which may challenge their abilities. This is the opposite of ideal, and will only lead to further loss of muscle mass, leg strength and functional capability.
So how can you improve your balance?
Begin by simply standing on one leg while looking at a focal point. The toes of the other foot can touch the floor, or you can stand near a chair or wall for safety. Concentrate on stabilizing your foot so your weight is distributed evenly from front to back and side to side on the sole of your foot. Control any rolling in or out of your ankle (pronating or supinating). Sturdy, supportive shoes will help at first, then you can progress to socks or barefoot. When it gets easier, try turning your head side to side, up and down, or turn your whole upper body. Another easy way to challenge yourself is to close one eye or both eyes.
Standing on one foot can be practiced any time you"re standing at a sink or counter, standing in line, etc. Make sure you spend more time on the harder or weaker (less dominant) side.
Standing in a heel-toe stance is a good way to challenge your balance. Make sure the heel of the forward foot actually touches the toes of the rear foot, and avoid turning the toes out (duck-footing). You can add any of the above progressions, or even rocking back and forth on the heels and toes. Be sure to do both sides!
Heel-toe walking on a line is a great way to challenge your balance (think DUI walk!). Don"t worry if it"s difficult at first. When you"re ready, you can do it backwards (yes, it"s possible!) or forward with your eyes closed (be sure to have someone there to watch for objects in your way). Again, be sure the feet fully touch, and try not to turn the toes out or veer too far off the line.
Drinking bird: stand on one foot with the leg straight, and reach the fingers of the opposite hand toward your toes while extending the free leg behind you, until your upper body is horizontal or you feel a stretch in your hamstring (back of the thigh). You can bend your knee a little if you need to. Squeezing the glute muscles of the standing leg, return to fully vertical and bring the knee of the free leg up without touching the ground with your free foot if possible. Do 10 repetitions before switching to the other leg."

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