Balance and mobility training can benefit us at any age, but it becomes more important as you reach and pass the age of 50.
Maintaining joint range of motion allows you to move naturally and helps to combat the postural problems that cause neck, back, shoulder and hip pain.
Far from only preventing stumbles and falls, balance training is extremely important for everyone because it makes us better at every physical thing we do. Having a keen sense of proprioception (the sense of where your body is in space) makes all movement more efficient. When combined with fluid joints that allow for a full range of motion, this puts you at your functional best.
Here’s a short sequence of five exercises you can do every day to improve and maintain your balance and mobility. Done in a slow, controlled fashion, you can finish the whole workout in under 10 minutes:
With balance training, the goal is not only to improve proprioception, but also to improve your body’s reaction mechanics so you can quickly move to re-establish center of mass and recover to a normal body posture.
As I tell my clients, balance training is most effective when you are almost falling, so it’s important to challenge yourself every time you do this exercise. Once you’ve mastered a simpler version of the Balance Stand, move on to a more complex version.
Balance training is extremely important for everyone because it makes us better at every physical thing we do.
At its most basic level, this exercise simply requires you to stand on one foot for 30 seconds. For some, this will be easy the first time, while others may need to stand close to a wall or in a door jamb to put out their hand to re-establish balance every few seconds.
Once you can balance on each foot on a stable surface for 30 seconds, it’s time to make it harder. Try looking up at the ceiling while you balance. Once you’ve mastered that, move to a less stable surface, such as a thick rug, a bath towel folded in quarters, a foam balance pad, an inflatable balance pod or a rigid wobble board.
This exercise works wonders for the hips and spine. The movement should be slow and small at first, progressing to a slightly deeper twist and bend with each successive repetition. Start by standing with your feet in a wide-legged stance and extend your arms straight out to the sides, in a rendition of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.
Take in a deep breath and engage your core muscles. Exhale as you slowly hinge forward at the hips and slightly twist, bringing your right hand down and across your body toward your left knee. Rather than moving at the shoulder joint, aim to make all of the motion happen in your hips and trunk.
Also, be sure you are bending forward at the hips and not from the lower back. You may not come anywhere close to touching your knee, and that’s fine. Listen to your body and stop when you feel any tension in the backs of your legs, your hips or your back.
Return to the starting position and repeat on the left side. Do a total of 20 slow repetitions, 10 on each side, alternating as you go.
Jumping Jack Arms
This exercise loosens up the shoulders, stretches the spine and works out all those kinks we get from sitting with less than optimal posture. Stand with your feet in a wide-legged stance, arms down by your sides. Engage your core, making your spine long, and slowly raise your arms out to the sides and as far overhead as you can, in what is essentially the arms-only movement of a jumping jack.
Don’t let your arms travel out in front of your body — imagine your body stuck between two large panes of glass, not allowing your arms to move outside of that space. If you can’t reach all the way up overhead by staying inside the imaginary panes, just stop where your lateral motion ends and return to the start position. Do 30 repetitions.
This exercise loosens up the entire hip socket and stretches nearly all of the leg muscles. Stand in an open doorway with about five feet of clear space on either side of the door. Hold the door jamb with your right hand and face forward, as though you are walking through the door. Lean onto your left foot, engage your core and slowly start swinging your right foot forward and behind you several inches.
As you begin to loosen up, make the swinging more exaggerated, but still keep the movement relatively slow and controlled. Do 20 to 30 swings with the right leg, then switch sides.
After finishing the forward/backward swings with both legs, turn sideways so you are facing the door jamb. Hold the jamb with both hands for stability and step back so you’re holding the jamb with fairly straight arms. Lean onto your left foot and slowly swing your right leg from side to side in front of the left leg, mimicking the motion of the pendulum in a clock.
Be sure to start with very small movements and increase the range only when the motion feels free and easy. Try not to swivel at the hips by rotating your spine, but keep the movement isolated within each hip socket. Do 20 to 30 swings with the right leg, then repeat on the left side.
Lunge Walk to High-Knees
This complex exercise combines balance with mobility, giving your legs and core a real workout! You’ll need a clear walkway, such as a long hallway or open space outside.
Starting with your hands on your hips, take a long, lunging step forward with your right foot. Keep your left knee straight, so you feel a mild stretch at the front of your left hip as you stride forward. Transfer your body weight onto your right foot and prepare for a balance challenge as you bring your left foot forward and drive your knee up high into the air, as though you are stepping up and over a small obstacle.
Continue the motion of your left leg forward and go right into a lunge, this time keeping your right leg straight behind you. Transfer your body weight onto your left leg and bring the right leg forward and up into a high-knee step.
Continue in this fashion until you have done a total of 30 or 40 steps — about 15 to 20 with each leg, alternating as you go. If your balance isn’t up to the challenge of this exercise yet, try doing it in a hallway with one hand on the wall to steady yourself as you go.