Some people get all the excitement they need from playing video games or going to the gym. Others prefer more exhilarating activities, such as riding motorcycles, skateboarding and surfing. Regardless of what your personal hobbies are, it’s hard to top what Nik Wallenda managed to pull off. On June 23, 2013, Wallenda successfully walked a tightrope across the Grand Canyon, an accomplishment that was televised live to 217 countries. Talk about maintaining grace under pressure!
Though you’ll never need to traverse the Grand Canyon on a tight rope, proper balance and coordination are one of the key cornerstones of good health. People with poor balance are far likely to suffer bruises and fractures as a result of repeated falls. Deteriorating coordination is an especially pronounced problem among those over the age of 65; it is estimated that 1 in 3 senior citizens suffer falls each year. Among adults over the age of 65, falls are the leading cause of injury death, and over 2 million people in this age group are hospitalized for fall-related injuries annually.
Fortunately, poor balance is not an inevitable consequence of aging. Performing the following exercises can dramatically improve your bodily coordination, thereby reducing your risk of serious traumatic injuries.
Weight Shifts – This is a basic exercise that virtually anyone can perform. Begin by standing up straight, with your feet hip-width apart and you arms at your sides. Shift your weight to your right side, to the point that your left foot is lifted off the floor. Try holding this position for 30 seconds. Return to your starting position, before repeating this technique on the left side of your body. Start with a relatively low number of repetitions. You can add to this total as your balance improves.
Balancing on One Leg – As with weight shifts, start with you legs hip-length apart and an equal amount of weight on each leg. With your hands on your hips, lift your left leg and bend it backwards (your leg should be extended slightly to the left). Maintain this position for up to 30 seconds, or for as long as your body allows. Repeat this process for your right leg. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, try lifting your left foot as far from your body as possible (again bent slightly to the left). Of course, this technique can be used on the right leg as well.
Bicep Curls on One Leg – This exercise might seem somewhat strange, but it is actually a great way to work out your biceps while simultaneously boosting your balance. Grab a dumbbell with your left hand, and curl it upward until both your forearm and hand are facing the ceiling. Proceed to lift your right leg off the ground, with the leg bent inward at the knee. Once again, try to hold this stance for 30 seconds before switching to the other leg (the dumbbell should now be in your right and, and the left leg should be lifted).
Shoulder Press on One Leg – Bicep curls aren’t the only weight-lifting exercise that can be performed on one leg. While holding a small dumbbell (a 5 to 10 pound weight should work), position your left arm so that the upper arm is parallel to the floor. Your forearm, in contrast, should be perpendicular to the ground. Lift your right leg off of the ground, bending it at the knee. Maintain this pose for 30 seconds before switching to the other arm. After getting used to this exercise, you can up the difficulty level by standing on a pillow or similarly unsteady surface.
Side-Lateral Raise – Side lateral raises work the deltoid muscles, but can also be used to improve balance. Using the same beginning stance as preceding exercises, lift a small weight (only 2 to 3 pounds) from the side of your body until your arm is parallel to the floor (the weight should be gripped in such a way so that it also runs parallel to the ground). With this step complete, lift your right leg off of the floor; your leg should be bent at the knee and positioned slightly off to the side. Your goal should be to hold this position for 30 seconds before switching to your opposing arm. As you become better at this technique, try to increase your number of repetitions.