Wake up, do this, and get on with your healthy day!
Balance tends to decline with age. It’s not because we inherently lose the ability to balance over the years. Rather, as we get older, we tend to become more sedentary, so we just don’t practice it as much.
“The activities we regularly participate in are the main thing that helps us maintain balance over time,” says Sarah Gallagher, D.P.T., owner of South Valley Physical Therapy in Denver. Strength and overall health certainly play a role, “but typically when people have balance problems, it’s not because they aren’t strong enough,” she explains. “It’s because they haven’t been rehearsing and practicing these sorts of novel movements.”
You may not realize it, but a lot of everyday activities challenge your balance, such as getting in and out of the car, stepping onto or off a curb, or walking down a hallway and quickly changing direction when someone calls your name. All of these actions require you to think and move quickly without falling over. When you start moving less or your daily activities change as you get older, you may have fewer chances to work on your balance. And if you don’t use it, you lose it.
The good news is that there’s a simple way to keep your body nimble: Add a few balance exercises to your regular routine, Gallagher suggests. That doesn’t mean standing on one leg with your eyes closed. Her favorite balance exercises are functional, meaning they mimic the movements you do in everyday life. That’s the inspiration behind the five-minute routine below. You can do it first thing in the morning to warm up your body for the day, or sneak it in midday to reset your body and brain after you’ve been sitting for a bit.
While it’s never too late to improve your balance skills, Gallagher highly recommends doing some balance training, like this quick workout, before you notice any problems. And if balance concerns are already impacting your daily life, talk to a physical therapist, she says. They can better evaluate you and recommend additional exercises or modifications to help build and maintain your balance.
How the 5-Minute Morning Routine Works
Do each exercise below for one minute, resting as needed between moves. There are four exercises total, so the full workout — rest included — should take only about five minutes.
For best results, do this quick routine three or more days per week. The key is to consistently challenge your balance skills, so even doing it twice a week is better than every once in a while.
Ready to get started? Here’s how to perform each movement. As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition or an injury, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.
Balance Exercise #1: Sit-to-Stand
Do for 1 minute
Sit on the edge of a sturdy chair with your feet flat on the floor. Rest your arms on your hips, cross them at your shoulders, or hold them in front of you for counterbalance. Think about sitting tall with a straight spine, chest and chin lifted, shoulders down and back. Engage your core.
Push down through your feet to stand up, keeping your head moving forward, leading your body and your chest up and trying not to use your arms for help. Pause, then slowly lower back down. That’s one rep. Repeat the movement for one minute, doing as many reps as you can with proper form.
Make it harder: Once you have the movement pattern perfected, try closing your eyes. This will help you practice orienting yourself in space without relying on visual cues for help.
Balance Exercise #2: Forward Lunge
Do for 1 minute
Stand beside a sturdy chair for balance support (if needed), with feet shoulder-width apart and hands on your hips. Take a big step forward with one leg, and slowly lower your body until your front thigh is parallel with the floor (knee is at a 90-degree angle). Make sure that your front knee doesn’t extend far past your toes. If you have troublesome knees, you can lean slightly forward from the waist to reduce stress on the joints.
Pause, then press through your heel to bring your front foot back to start. Repeat on the opposite side. Continue to lunge, alternating sides, for one minute.
Make it easier: If forward lunges bother your knees, try reverse lunges instead. The backward movement eliminates the forward momentum and the pressure it can put on your joints. You can also decrease the depth of your lunge: Stop before the point where your knees start to feel it. “A modified lunge is still going to activate the quads,” Gallagher says.
Balance Exercise #3: Traveling Side Squat
Do for 1 minute
Stand tall with your feet together and hands on your hips. Step your left foot out to the side. As you land, lower into a squat, bending at your knees and hips. From there, squeeze your butt and press through both heels to stand back up, bringing your right foot in to meet your left foot as you do. Immediately step your left foot out to the side as you squat once again.
Repeat this side-stepping movement across the room. When you run out of room, do it in the opposite direction. Continue the movement, making sure you do an equal amount on each side, for one minute.
Make it easier: Instead of lowering down into a full squat each time, bend your knees slightly and hinge forward into a mini squat. Stay in this mini-squat position and step to the left, leading with the left foot and following with the right, until you run out of space. Repeat on the other side.
Balance Exercise #4: Marching in Place
Do for 1 minute
Stand tall facing a wall, kitchen counter, or the back of a sturdy chair, holding on for support only if needed.
From there, raise one knee as high as you comfortably can, making sure not to tilt your trunk as you do so. Pause, then lower your leg to the starting position. Repeat with your opposite leg. Think about pushing your entire foot through the floor to lift your leg. Pick up the pace if/when you feel comfortable, swinging your arms naturally as you move your legs. Continue marching for one minute.
Make it harder: Add knee taps. As your left leg comes up, tap it with your right hand. As your right leg comes up, tap it with your left hand. Continue alternating. Advance to two or three taps on each knee for an even bigger challenge.
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