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Balance and why it’s important to all of us

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

6 Exercises to Improve Your Balance — and Why It's Important At Any Age

Whether you're a runner, hiker, or lover of hot girl walks, balance training is incredibly important. To get started, try these expert-approved exercises.

When you're a 20-something-year-old weight lifter, a marathoner in your thirties, or a hiking enthusiast who's just about to go over the hill, exercises to improve your balance may not be a top priority within your workout program. After all, balance training is a necessity only for old folks and yoga lovers, right?

Not exactly. Here, physical therapists lay out why it's so important to practice balancing at any age, even if you think your skills are already up to snuff. Plus, they share tips and exercises to improve balance that can easily be worked into your everyday life and workout routine.

What Is Balance?

Simply put, balance refers to your ability to control and maintain your body's position in space, according to the National Institute on Aging. But if you want to get more scientific, balance is your capacity to manage your center of gravity and stay upright while you're standing, walking, and tackling nearly any other activity, according to researchpublished in Behavioral Sciences.

Balance really gives you the ability to be able to walk and look at your phone and be distracted," adds Heather Moore, P.T., D.P.T., a physical therapist and the owner of Total Performance Physical Therapy in Pennsylvania. "If you go through your everyday life without that balance component, you're gonna fall over." On the same token, good balance is the reason you're able to walk down steps, step off a sidewalk curb, and cut a corner while jogging without toppling to the ground, she says. Translation: Balance plays a key role in injury prevention.

Why All Runners Need Balance and Stability Training

To keep you standing in any of these situations, you'll rely on various body systems, including your muscles, bones, joints, eyes, nerves, heart, blood vessels, and inner ear, according to the Mayo Clinic. While all of your muscles come into play, your hip stabilizers and core are essential. "The core and hip stabilizers are really the foundation for a lot of movements in your body," says Moore. "And if you don't have that strong abdominal and hip complex, there's no way you can have good balance." Another key element of balance is proprioception, or the ability to sense the position, movement, and force of your body, according to research published in Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine.

The Benefits of Doing Exercises to Improve Balance

When it comes to good balance, the saying "use it or lose it" applies. "Balance isn't inherent — it's not something that you have naturally," says Moore. "Just like any muscle in your body, you have to work at it." At any age, you'll call on your balance while making a quick movement in a different direction (think: suddenly jumping across a sidewalk to avoid a big puddle), walking on uneven ground, or shifting your weight into one foot — something you do while walking, running, and practicing yoga, says Moore.

As you grow older, you'll also begin to lose mobility and lubrication in your joints, which contributes to a loss of balance and ups your risk of falling, she explains.

And that's why everyone — whether you're approaching retirement age or just celebrated your 30th birthday — should incorporate exercises to improve balance into their routine, adds Yonnie Procter, P.T., D.P.T. a physical therapist in California. "One of the things that's going to improve your longevity and overall resilience as a human is to work on your balance," she says. "And being able to stabilize and balance sets you up for just being more proprioceptively aware of your body, which can help reduce the risk of injury."

For example, Procter recently had a client who accidentally stepped off a curb, lost her footing, and fell to the ground, causing her to break her arm, she says. If her client had focused on balance training before her accident by practicing keeping her body upright while on one foot and while moving, she may have been able to avoid that fall, says Procter.

How to Improve Your Balance

Although adequate balance is a skill you have to consistently work on, it's simple enough to do. Your first step: Practice standing on one leg for 30 seconds every day, which is considered the gold standard for good balance, says Moore. You can do this balance exercise while brushing your teeth, washing the dishes, or working at your standing desk, she adds.

Once you hit that benchmark, try doing the exercise with your eyes closed, she says. "If you were to close your eyes, you take out sensory input into the body, and now you're relying just on your body and your inner ear to balance," adds Procter. From there, perform your 30-second single-leg stands on a soft surface, such as a BOSU ball or a pillow. Once you've mastered that move, repeat it with your eyes closed, suggests Moore. Just make sure to stand near a counter or table so you can catch yourself if you fall, she adds.

You can also easily incorporate balance training into your workout routine, starting with closing your eyes while performing some of your favorite exercises, says Procter. If you're performing a set of shoulder presses, for example, try doing all of your reps without any visual input, she suggests. (Trust, it's much more challenging than it seems.) Or, you can focus on single-leg exercises, such as pistol squats and single-leg deadlifts, according to the experts. You can even do biceps curls while standing on one leg to amp up the balance challenge.

It's good to train unilaterally, which will even [out] muscle imbalances and improve [your ability to] balance because you're able to produce and manage forces evenly," says Procter.

If you put these tips into action and are still having trouble with your balance, you may want to chat with a physical therapist to come up with a specialized training plan that works best for you, says Procter.

6 Exercises to Improve Balance

Not sure how to get started with your balance training? Try a few of Moore's go-to exercises to improve balance, which she demonstrates below. Remember, the more you practice these moves, the better your balance will be.

How it works: Do 3 sets of the below exercises to improve balance for the suggested time period or number of reps.

What you'll need: a step

Single-Leg Balance

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms at sides.

B. Shift weight into right foot and lift left foot a few inches off the floor.

Hold for up to 30 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.

Reverse Lunge

A. Stand with feet together and hands resting on hips.

B. Keeping core engaged, chest tall, and shoulders stacked over hips, take a large step backward with left foot and lower down until right thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees form 90-degree angles.

C. Push through mid-foot and heel of right foot to rise out of the lunge, then bring left foot forward to return to standing, keeping left foot lifted off the floor.

Do 10 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

Single leg hip hike

A. Stand with feet together and arms at sides, hands resting on hips. Shift weight into right foot and lift left foot a few inches off the floor. This is the starting position.

B. Keeping right leg straight, bend torso slightly to the left side and lower left hip a few inches.

C. Pause, then bend torso to the right side to lift left hip back up to the starting position.

Do 10 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

Single-Leg Squat

A. Stand on left leg with the entire left foot rooted firmly into the floor, right knee bent, and right foot lifted a few inches off the floor.

B. Bend left knee, send hips backward, and lower body a few inches toward the floor, simultaneously reaching arms forward while keeping right knee bent and right foot hovering above floor.

C. Squeeze glutes and lefthamstring to stop the descent, then push left leg through the floor to press back up to standing.

Do 10 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

Single-Leg Deadlift

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms at sides.

B. Engage core and pull shoulder blades down and back. Shift weight into left leg and bend left knee slightly.

C. Keeping arms straight, send hips back to lower hands down to the floor in front of legs while simultaneously lifting right leg off the floor and extending it behind body. Continue lowering until hips are fully pushed back and hands are as close to the flooras possible.

D. Keeping chest up, push through left heel to lower right foot back to the floor and return to standing, squeezing glutes at the top.

Do 10 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

Single-Leg Step Down

A. Stand on the edge of a step or curb with right foot on the step, left foot hovering above the floor, and arms at sides, hands resting on hips. This is the starting position.

B. Bend right knee to lower left foot all the way to the floor.

C. Pause, then straighten right leg to lift left foot off the floor and return to the starting position.

Do 10 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

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