Find Your Balance
As happens with so many things in life, we rarely think about balance until we lose it. Yet balance is crucial to our wellbeing—it prevents falls, helps us navigate uneven terrain, and keeps us upright when walking, running, biking, dancing, or skiing.
FIGHT GRAVITY. Stability exercises can help you be more sure-footed. “The best way to work on your balance is to put yourself in unstable situations that force you to improve your relationship with gravity,” says Jen Weck, a Bosu ball master trainer. “This will strengthen your stabilizer muscles, improve your range of motion, and solidify your core.”
STEADY YOURSELF. Anything that challenges your proprioception (your body’s sense of where it is in space) will hone your sense of balance. This includes working out on an uneven surface like a wobble board or Bosu ball (ask a personal trainer to show you how). As your balance improves so will your posture and your ability to negotiate ski slopes, hiking trails, and neglected city sidewalks. Weck, who recommends doing exercises that challenge your balance two to three times per week, suggests you get started with this move.
Single Leg Balance
“This simple exercise is much more challenging than it sounds,” says master Bosu ball trainer Jen Weck. “Standing with all your weight on the unstable surface of the Bosu ball tones your core, legs, ankles, and feet. If practiced regularly, it can improve your balance, coordination, and posture.”
1. Stand up straight on top of a Bosu ball with your left foot on the center of the ball and your right foot resting next to your left foot. Shift your weight to your left leg and bring your arms straight out to your sides at shoulder height.
2. Point your right toes and either rest them on the side of the dome or, for more of a challenge, lift your right leg slightly out to the side. Aim to hold the position for 30 seconds. To increase the diffi culty, close your eyes and try to hold the position for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
3 WAYS TO HOLD STEADY
1. TRY TAI CHI. Studies show that regular tai chi practice reduces falls and improves balance and leg strength. With its slow, rhythmic movements, tai chi offers a safe, effective way to build proprioception.
2. GO BAREFOOT. Whenever it’s convenient and safe (around the house, for example), kick off your shoes. “The soles of your feet have touch receptors that send information to the centers of your brain responsible for balance,” says Sandra Blakeslee, coauthor of The Body Has a Mind of Its Own (Random House, 2008). “The more signals you send, the more you will keep your sense of balance tuned and the steadier on your feet you’ll be.”
3. SEEK OUT UNEVEN SURFACES. You don’t need special equipment: If you walk for exercise, take a dirt path or stroll on the beach. “Walking on uneven surfaces challenges your proprioception, which keeps your balance sharp,” Blakeslee says.