January 18, 2010

Balance Training: One More Damn Thing To Worry About?

Photo credit: Foxtongue

How's your balance?

I thought mine was pretty good. Then a while back Mizfit alerted me to a balance test that tells you how "old" you are based on how long you can stand on one foot, without swaying, with your eyes closed. I don't remember my exact score, but I think I came out somewhere around 113 years old. According to that test, it's a wonder I can get out of bed in the morning without falling flat on my face.

Now I'm still not convinced my balance is that bad. But even if it were, is this really a problem? I mean, judging by so many of the romantic comedies I've watched, isn't klutziness, clumsiness, and a tendency to stumble over things just a sign of adorableness? Don't pratfalls predict happy endings?

Well, apparently not in real life. When you're elderly and you take a spectacular tumble, it's not generally of sign of fun times and complicated romantic entanglements ahead. According to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths among the elderly.

So, OK, we want to make sure we head into our golden years all solid and graceful, not all tippy and teetery. But if we're not that old yet, why can't we just put it off a few decades? It's not like we don't already have enough to worry about, between aerobics and intervals and kegels and flossing our teeth and eating our probiotics and organizing our tax records.

Well, according to a neurology expert quoted in Runner's World, "You can lose as much as 75 percent of your balance ability between the ages of 25 and 75."


So maybe it is best to take a look at this balance thing before is totally slips away from us.

Here are a few suggestions for working on your balance so that you don't become a CDC statistic someday.

1. Try bosu balls, wobble boards, stability balls, or other balance training gizmos.

There's something about investing in a fitness gadget that makes balance practice sound more appealing--at least for a few weeks until the novelty wears off. (I confess: I believe I have a wobble board somewhere in the basement that I haven't used in years.) Bosu balls seem to be getting very popular; and for a hilarious illustrated post on the proper use of one, go check out Jenny on the Spot.

2. Agility Training

I didn't even know this existed until Deb at Weight for Deb got all enthusiastic about it. Not only does it help with balance in dynamic situations, it can even sharpen your ability to think quickly. Which you'll need to do if you find yourself tripping over cones and ladders and hurtling towards the ground. Here are some sample agility exercises, and all I can say is: Yikes!

3. Wii Fit and other balance video games.

I keep hearing lots of great things about these, so I'm terribly jealous. Sounds like a great way to get a variety of balance exercises, but still be able to flail around in the privacy of your own home.

4. Yoga.

Yoga is great for balance. And not just in the evolved, serene, live-a-conscious lifestyle sense. But in the actual stop-tripping-and-falling-on-your-butt sense. For example, here you can find some online tips for standing balance poses.

5. Try fun-sounding sports that require balance.

These scare me to death, but braver souls than I seem to have a great time improving their balance by snowboarding, skateboarding, mountain biking, ice skating, skiing, surfing, or riding bucking broncos in the rodeo.

6. Regular Boring Old Balance Exercises:

Not as exciting as the rodeo, but there are many sources for balance exercises, like at Runner's World, Livestrong, Mayo Clinic, or 3 Fat Chicks on a Diet.

How about you folks, do you do have good balance? If not, are you doing anything to work on it?

[Note: This post also appears over at the Blogher 10X club, because Crabby is lazy like that. And hey, if you're feeling brave enough, you can even go check out the health and fitness challenges in the 10x forum.]


  1. I'm notoriously clumsy (my mother tells people I never met a wall I didn't like), so maybe it makes sense that I focus on balance regularly. Many of the exercises my physical therapist gave me for my knee rehab include using a Bosu ball while strength training or balancing on one foot. At first it was super hard, but I'm definitely getting better.

    All of that, of course, hasn't made me any more graceful in real life. Oh well, at least it will prevent further injury!

  2. Jenny is so funny! Thanks for the balance tips. I'm currently doing #4 - Yoga ...I'm actually typing this as I'm in the downward tree pose. Great balance, huh?

    Actually, I'm using the yoga video I won from Cranky Fitness. Thanks!

  3. My balance is not terrible I guess, but not fantastic either. I like to blame it on the fact that I have ear problems - there's some relationship there, right?

    I do enjoy doing yoga though, so hopefully that will keep things from deteriorating too badly.

  4. A word to the wise--balance changes. I have always had fairly good balance and scored younger than my real age on Mizfit's test. (One of the few physical test I did well on.)

    Anyway, I had surgery last summer with a long recovery and, lo and behold, my balance was one of the things that I noticed was worse. I took the test again, and am about 90 years old, so balance is a priority for me.


  5. I'm less of the fall down sort and more of the whoops I just hit my shins on the deak (again) sort.
    I am safety officer at work, mainly because I know of all the ways you can hurt yourself in a lab (ahem) personally.
    I've found using the exercise ball has helped, but I keep meaning to try yoga more. I tend to tip over when I do it now...but I imagine that would get better over time.

    I suspect that I'm more likely to hurt myself while trying to get less clumsy :)

  6. I practice a daily balancing exercise. I should say 'nightly' when I am on my bed. I do just fine. I stay in the middle and never fall off.

  7. I can't believe you found yet another thing "they" want us to look out for!

    On the bright side, I actually think my balance is very good. There's a simple explanation - my husband loves to windsurf and on occasion I join him... but I absolutely hate falling in the water and for a long time was really, really scared of going under. The first time I ever tried it, there were even jellfish in the water waiting for me if I took a tumble.
    The happy outcome is, after several years of looking like a drowned cat, I have now developed a very keen sense of balance. Or self-preservation, call it what you will ;)

    Thanks so much for your comment about eating good fats to raise good cholesterol. That's a plan I can get behind!!

  8. The Wii Fit tells me my balance is that of a 75 year old....yet it also tells me that I'm a Yoga Master on the standing balance poses. So, yeah, I'm not so sure about the Wii Fit's assessments.

    I love me some stability ball exercises. I've eyed the Bosu ball suspiciously. The trainers my gym like to make people use it. There's no way I'd attempt it alone.

  9. Yoga is becoming more that an interest to me now...been trying to get a session in 3 days a week. I started because I wanted to work on flexibility with more than just standard stretches I'm bored with since I injured my calf a few months back. Awesome to think it will help with my balance too...I'm a bit klutzy. I have tried the Wii balance board and it tells me I super suck in the balance department.

  10. I try to do the eliptical for 30 minutes without hands. I've noticed it helps my balance AND my abs get a workout!

  11. I'm sure I could give Methuselah a toddle for his money if I took the age-balance test.
    I discovered by accident that ginkgo biloba works wonders for my balance. It may just be me as I've never run across anything suggesting it did so.

  12. Twenty-five years of wobbly yoga here. My balance improved when I took four years of ballet in high school, but it wasn't great to start with. I do at least one balance pose daily, and I'm better than I was in 1985, but not stable.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  13. I can barely stand on one foot for very long without falling over. And I'm only 22, so don't feel bad, crabby.

    But, that being said, I HATE BOSUS. They are of satan.

    That is all.


  14. I consider myself to have moderately good balance with my eyes open. Eyes closed, and I'm geriatric for some reason.

    Yes, I have a couple of balance exercises I do regularly. I'm hoping they will make a difference.

  15. This is one of the few horrible things that Attila has me do that I can get behind one hundred freaking percent. She combines agility training with balance training, and I always almost-not-quite fall down.

    HOWEVER! When I hit a patch of ice in my cowboy boots the other week, I did not fall down. Yeah, I did a weird "Matrix" move and windmilled my arms, but I didn't fall over. And when I remodeled the bathroom and had to tear out the floor? I could walk on the joists without falling over (see "Matrix" move).

    And I don't trip over nothing and fall as often as I used to. There's something to this balance stuff, and it really has decreased my level of klutz.

  16. Crabby, Mizfit forgot to mention that you weren't supposed to do that balance thing while wearing those 4-inch heels :) I bet your balance is great if you're barefoot.

    Year by year, I get to watch my mother travel further down the osteoporosis path that my grandmother took. These days, when she loses her balance and falls, things fracture. I doing yoga every day!

  17. Crabby, thx for this post! I do work on balance, especially at my age! I have really bad feet too.. HUGE overpronator due to flat/wide/bunion feet so it is really hard for me as just on a flat surface is an experience with these major overpronator feet!

    I do try & I use the BOSU too! I have tipped for sure! :-)

    Loved all those links!

  18. Interestingly (and funny) enough, I got on the Wii balance board and I thought I was gonna have some kind of Zen balance after 5 years of martial arts training. EHHH! Wrong! Now I work on my balance everyday.

  19. Roller Derby requires scads of balance. I highly recommend it. One day, when I retire from Derby, I plan to take up yoga... one thing at a time, though, one thing at a time.

  20. My balance used to be atrocious, but once I started working with a trainer who is basically obsessed with the use of the Bosu ball, I've made some great strides.

    I don't know about anyone else, but I can't imagine anyone putting a gun to my head and telling me to shut my eyes and balance. I just want to remain upright with both eyes open.

  21. Being an ex-gymnast I like to think I still have great balance but it hasn't exactly been tested lately so... yeah. I probably ought to work on that. I like your bucking bronco idea!

  22. I had pretty good balance up until my BC surgery. I am still working on getting it back. Touch wood though, I haven't fallen over nothing this year ;)

  23. I used to have good balance with no work. Used to :( So, it's something I plan to work on.

  24. My trainer preaches balance and therefore I am very well acquainted with the Bosu ball, the wobble ball and the Indo board. Of course, I have a sneaking suspicion that he just makes us do these crazy exercises so he can secretly laugh...because I sure do look like a fool trying to stay balanced!

    Thanks for the link to Jenny's blog - she's a hoot!

  25. Thanks for a timely post! I am starting to ice skate again and it is soooo much harder than I expected. You see, my head knows how to skate but my body has forgotten. I tried nordic skating on Sunday and it was humbling. I made the decision to work on my balance and, voilĂ , here's your post and everyone's helpful comments. Yea!

  26. There is many things we have to do to stay fit...strenght, cardio, stretch and balance! We all must quit our jobs and become fit full time...because basiclly thats how much time it takes...especially when you are close to middle age..And you have to make sure you are getting all your vitimins too...geesh!

  27. Balance is an essential part of helping save my mobility with severe degenerative arthritis. Part of my therapy is balance exercises, which help strengthen the nerve pathways from my legs to my brain and stabilize my knees. I was told to stand on one foot for 30 seconds, then the other foot, every day. Then I got the Wii Fit. I LOVE the balance games! I really do, and I can see big improvements when I do them a couple times a week. They are so fun and even my 4-year-old loves them.

  28. I just finished a workshop called Balletone. (www.Balletone.com)
    I would highly recommend it for balance, as well as toning.
    BTW, LOVE your posts! I have passed them onto some of my clients for fun reading material with a kick. Keep it up!

  29. My favorite ways to improve balance are Yoga and Pilates. Ever since I started doing them, my balance was waaay better (not that it was all messed up or anything).

  30. I used to think I had terrible balance, but realized I'm uncoordinated with great balance. Otherwise I'd end up flat on my face more often when I trip (which is frequently).

    I have a balance board that I don't use and sold my Bosu after I blew out my knee using it. I need to make a point of doing more balance exercises on the flat ground where I can't hurt myself as badly if I fall.

  31. DANCE. Not free-style jazz or disco dancing; you'll only cater to your limitations. Something with real steps (ballroom dancing, two-stepping) and, later, intricate figures (folk dancing, line dancing).

    ICE-SKATE or ROLLER-SKATE. If necessary, hang on to a hockey stick; no one will realize it's a crutch and your rink cred will sky-rocket. Decline invitations to join a hockey league; tell them your spouse won't let you play again until the new dental work is paid off.

    I haven't tried windsurfing. Excellent suggestion.

  32. Roller Skating has also helped. I always practice with a roller skate


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