Having a balanced life, one in which your energies are relatively evenly divided among work, play and emotional and spiritual sustenance is hugely important. But today I want to talk briefly about another sort of balance that is equally crucial to develop.
I’m referring to physical balance and agility, which is the ability to move quickly and easily and to recognize and maintain your body position in relation to other objects or persons. As we age, physical balance and agility start to decline and with that decline comes a real risk to your health and well being.
You may think, like many people, that declining balance is only a problem with the elderly, as this increases the risk of serious falls and subsequent hip fractures or even a head injury. But, as it turns out, your balance, along with strength, muscle mass and agility, starts to decline at midlife!
Try this simple test. Get out a stopwatch (you likely have one on your smartphone) or a watch and time yourself for a full 60 seconds as you try to stand balanced on one foot. Go ahead and do that now, note your results, then come back and read the rest of this article.
If you didn’t make it to 60 seconds, don’t feel too bad. A recent study in the The Journals of Gerontology found that while people who were in their thirties or forties had an average time close to a minute when they were tested, people in their 50’s were able to stand balanced on one foot for only 45 seconds. And those over 50 fared worse. People in their 60’s made it 40 seconds, people in their 70’s stood for 27 seconds on average and for those 80 and over, only 12 seconds.
Your balance is a result of a very complicated mix of factors, including inner ear functioning, strength, vision, flexibility, touch and even mental functioning. Here are some simple tips to improve your balance and reduce your risk of future problems. Note: if you have balance problems or have already fallen, please consult with your qualified medical practitioner before trying any of these.
One – As in the balance test above, practice standing on one foot while striving to increase your duration. You can do this while standing in line or while at home washing the dishes. As you build up your capacity, try closing your eyes. You may want to start by holding on to the back of a chair for support.
Two – Walk a virtual balance beam by doing heel to toe walking in a straight line.
Three – When you get out of a chair, try not to use your hands.
Four – Consider taking up tai chi and/or yoga, both of which have been shown to improve balance.
Here’s to a more balanced life!
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