E is for equilibrium, otherwise known as balance, and it can help you prevent falls and stay active throughout your life. Want to improve your equilibrium now and make good balance a habit? Here's how, using these five easy exercises from our 10-week workout program:
Here's what you need to know about why and how to improve your equilibrium, adapted from Fitness After 40 by Vonda Wright, M.D.
Don't fall down. Easy advice to give, but in reality—in your 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond—it is not always easy to stay upright. Even if you have not fallen in years, it is likely that you will in the future. Did you know that after age 25, your balance begins to decline, and that after 65, 1 in 3 people will fall doing normal activities of daily living? Falls in the later years often result in wrist and hip fractures, which can have a devastating effect on your lifestyle or even threaten your life.
But falls can be prevented. A large analysis of balance studies found that muscle strengthening and balance retraining programs can decrease the risk of falls by 45 percent. In addition, studies show that people who practice the noncompetitive martial art of tai chi (which emphasizes gentle movements and stretching) have a significantly better sense of joint position and better reaction times than people of the same age who did not practice such balance-intense activities.
1. Stand next to a firm surface such as a counter or chair back.
2. Hold your hands above the surface in case you need support.
3. Close your eyes and lift one foot off the ground.
4. Balance on the other foot.
5. Count out loud the number of seconds you are able to balance.
The shorter your balance time, the "older" your equilibrium is. If you balanced for more than 22 seconds, your balance is as young as a 20-year-old's; 15 seconds, you have the balance of a 30-year-old; 7.2 seconds, of a 40-year-old; 3.7 seconds, of a 50-year-old; and if you toppled over right away, you are 60 in "balance years."
If you are fit and strong, you can have better balance than much younger sedentary people. There are many ways you can boost your balance:
1. Stay strong. Strengthening your buttocks, quadriceps, and hamstrings goes a long way in improving balance.
2. Join a class. Tai chi, yoga, and pilates all require slow deliberate movements, trunk rotation, and one-legged stances.
3. Be productive in your down time. Between sets of strength exercises, while brushing your teeth in the morning, or while waiting at a street corner for the light to change, try standing on one leg and balancing.
4. Work balance exercises into your daily routine. You don't need any special equipment—just your body. For best results, do some or all of these exercises every day.