Health & Fitness

Improve your balance to look, feel younger

Of all the qualities you want to prioritize as a baby boomer, balance is right at the top of the list. Yes, it's more important than memory, strength and intelligence. That's because good balance will help keep you from a disabling fall, and it will also make life a lot easier and more convenient.

For example, is putting on a pair of pants a problem for you? Do you have to sit down and put one leg on, then the other, before you can stand up and fasten the waistband? Or is your balance still good enough so that you can stand on one foot, put a pant leg on the other foot, then do the same on the other side in a quick and easy way?

If putting on socks or pants has become a much bigger deal over the years, or if you've turned timid when going down stairs or getting out of a vehicle, it's time to get your balance back and be sure-footed once again.

Practice your balance: A good balance workout begins with a simple exercise — standing on one foot. At first, you may wobble and need to hold on to the edge of a dresser or table for support. But finding your balance point is easy if you relax your foot and bend your knee a little. Work hard on relaxing your foot because it will keep tensing up and throwing you off your balance point.

When you can stand on one foot until you count to 30, it's time to switch to the other foot. Once you can stand on each foot alone for 30 seconds without holding on, the next part of this exercise is bringing the knee of the lifted leg up as high as you can, almost like a marching step. Hold this position until you learn your balance point. When you can stand on one foot with the other thigh lifted at least parallel to the floor, you've got enough balance to put on your clothes without having to sit down to do it.

Practice balance in motion: The next exercise to try is the tiptoe walk. It's as simple as it sounds. Standing on tiptoe, walk from one end of your living room to the other, turn around quickly and walk back. Practice until you can walk on just the front part of your feet without wobbling.

Now it's time to change your center of gravity a little and continue practicing walking. Lift your arms as high overhead as you can reach, and walk through your home. Going in and out of various rooms will make you turn and twist your body. Do this with your arms reaching up high, and you will be testing the stability of your lower back.

Can you walk through your entire place without making a painful curve in your back? If not, you may need to strengthen your spinal erectors, the two columns of muscle on either side of your lower spine that help hold your upper body erect.

Strengthen your posterior core: One way to do this is to lie face-down crossways on your bed, with your upper body hanging over the edge from the waist up. Bend your head down to the floor, then lift it so your back is straight. Each bend-and-lift is one rep. Do 10 reps.

If your back begins to ache, use this method instead: Lie on the floor face-down and lift your upper body as high as you can. Lift slowly; don't jerk it up. Slowly lower your head and shoulders back to the floor again.

You'll find that practicing these balance exercises regularly will make you walk with a more youthful spring in your step. You'll be more sure-footed and feel more secure when you walk or make any movement that requires you to stand on one foot. Improving your balance will make you walk like a much younger person; a good payback for a few minutes of exercise done every day.