SilverSneakers trainer Brenda Sproule shares her best advice for staying strong on your feet.
Take a class, any class, with SilverSneakers instructor Brenda Sproule, and you will work to improve your balance.
“While every component of an exercise class is important, balance training is certainly at the top of my list,” Sproule says.
Why? Because if you don’t use it, you lose it. “When we’re younger, we’re skipping, hopping, and practicing our balance without even thinking about it,” Sproule says. “As we age, we become more sedentary, and our natural ability to balance disappears.”
Even if you’re an active exerciser, your balance probably isn’t what it used to be. Sproule, who has been teaching fitness classes for 40 years, recalls taking a special training course five years ago that involved a healthy dose of balance testing: “I kept falling over,” she says. “I was shocked at how bad my balance had gotten!”
Even though she had been physically active for decades, Sproule says she rarely focused on challenging her balance. “After all, we don’t often practice standing on one foot.”
With dedicated training—including standing on one foot—Sproule has successfully rebuilt her balance and thus reduced her risk of falls and injuries.
To help you do the same, here are four balance exercises Sproule recommends adding to your everyday routine. Make it a goal to do at least one per day.
Balance Exercise #1: Single-Leg Stand￼
Next time you’re at the sink doing dishes, hold onto the sink or counter for support; raise one foot a few inches off the floor and see how long you can stand on one foot. When you’re ready, switch sides and repeat.
The key is to ground through your standing foot while lifting through the crown of your head, Sproule says. Keep your weight balanced in between the heel and ball of your foot, tighten your core, and resist the urge to “sink” into your standing leg (i.e., don’t let your hip pop out to the side).
Balance Exercise #2: Tightrope Walk
When you’re walking around the house, take 30 to 60 seconds to pretend you’re walking on a narrow tightrope. Looking forward and walking close to a wall to help support your balance, step one foot in front of you so that your front foot’s heel is touching or almost touching your back foot’s toes. Focus on keeping your body weight centered over the imaginary rope, Sproule says. When you run out of space, turn around and walk in the opposite direction.
Make it harder: Once you get really skilled, you can try moving backward. Just be sure you’re in a room with clear space for walking. And keep close to that wall for support!
Balance Exercise #3: Staggered-Stance Heel Rise
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms down at your sides or holding onto a sturdy chair, countertop, or wall for balance. Slide one foot a few inches forward so you’re in a staggered stance. Brace your core, then rise onto the balls of both feet. Hold for a few seconds at the top, then slowly lower back down. That’s 1 rep. Aim for 8 to 10 reps (more if you want), then switch sides and repeat.
If you’re in a multitasking mood, do this move while your morning coffee brews.
Make it harder: Try slowly moving your head side to side (as if saying “no”) or up and down (nodding “yes”) while you maintain the heels-up position.
Balance Exercise #4: Stair Pause
When you climb the stairs, add a brief pause to every step. More specifically, put your right foot on a step, push through your right leg to extend it, and pause for one second before placing your left foot down. Repeat the sequence. Continue until you reach the top, or for as many stairs as you comfortably can.
Always keep a hand on the stair railing during this exercise, and only try it if you already feel confident taking the stairs.
Make it harder: Pause a little longer on each step.
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