07 Mon

The best exercise to improve balance

The best exercise to improve balance

Paul Kochoa, PT, DPT, OCS, CGFI


The New York Times ran an article regarding the “best exercise to improve your balance” last week.  They cited studies comparing the effectiveness of Tai Chi and ballroom dancing (They found that both groups improved their balance, but the Tai Chi group had better outcomes).  They also cited a study about yoga and balance (Not surprisingly, those who practiced yoga had better balance than those who did not).

But regardless of what you choose, your options are pretty much endless, any little thing can improve your balance even without joining a gym or exercise class.

Balance is a skill that we tend to lose as we age (I’ve wrote about balance before).  It’s made up of primarily three systems: the vestibular system, the visual system, and the somatosensory system.  You can see the three systems working together at the peak of their function in a ballet dancer or circus acrobat.  But it’s easy to see when these systems are off.  You start to walk slower, you move slower, you don’t want to bend over to pick things up, you start to be afraid of falling…

Balance is a skill that we must continue to practice if we want to maintain it.  Just like the New York Times article says, all you need is some space, a stable countertop or table to hold onto, and a pillow or foam cushion if you want to get fancy.   Something as simple as standing on one leg incorporates all the aforementioned systems.  Use the table or countertop for support as needed.  But try and make your legs work as you try and stand on one foot.

If this gets easy, try the position with your eyes closed and try and extend the time you can stay on one foot.  For even greater challenge, try standing on the pillow or foam cushion.  A thick couch cushion works best.  But be forewarned, you’re treading into challenging territory, so loss of balance is not unheard of when you start to stand on one leg on a cushion with your eyes closed.  Have something close by to grab onto.

Be safe.

The more your practice, the better you can become. And you can really decrease your risk of falling if you keep it up.  But if you have any more questions, feel free to contact Professional Physical Therapy and Training at 973-270-7417. We are located in the Madison and Summit area YMCAs, you do not need to be a member to come see us.


Image courtesy of arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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