We rely on good balance a lot in our day-to-day lives. It helps us walk with ease, climb stairs without stumbling, sit down and stand up, and even dance to our favourite tunes. It isn’t until we start to lose this faculty that we realize how much we need it. So we asked Sam Casmey, Manager of Adult Health & Fitness Programs here at the YMCA of Greater Toronto, to share her advice for building balance while you’re at home right now.
Why is your balance changing?
Our bodies change as we age and over time, you might have seen your balance decline. These issues can arise for older adults for a variety of reasons, such as decreases in the quality of your vision, inner ear problems, or changes to your sense of touch and proprioception (the ability to sense where your body is in space).
Understandingly, these physical changes might change your approach to exercise — but they shouldn’t spell the end of a fun, active lifestyle! In fact, studies suggest that regular, appropriate exercise can slow the physiological decline of balance, and in some cases, make you feel even more stable than you were before.
How can you work on improving it?
The trick to maintaining or improving your balance and mobility is to take it one step at a time. When you’re doing any given exercise or activity, try to see if you can find stability. Once you feel comfortable, it’s time to challenge yourself! While you’re doing that exercise or activity, try removing a stabilizing factor to see how your mind and body respond. For example, if you were exercising while holding onto a chair or countertop for stability, try taking your hand away for a second. See how it feels to do the same movement without holding on.
Try these exercises at home
1. Standing on one leg
Set yourself up near a wall, so you can rest your hand on it for support if you need to. Start on both feet, then start to lift one leg off the floor. Notice how your balance is impacted here. Do you feel comfortable? Maybe you can move that lifted leg in space to make this exercise even more challenging! How does that feel?
Repeat the same exercise on the other side, lifting the opposite leg off the floor. Once you’ve mastered that, you can start taking your hands away from the wall.
2. Standing on a firm pillow
Another way to challenge yourself is to stand on an unstable surface. Do the exact same exercise I explained above, but try standing on a firm pillow. Notice how it feels to stand on an uneven, moving surface. If it’s easy for you, try taking one hand away from the wall. Go slowly and focus your attention on staying balanced on your prop. Continue challenging yourself by removing the other hand.
When you’re doing either of these exercises, don’t forget to keep breathing evenly and steadily. Most importantly, have fun with it!
Work on your balance with one of our fitness instructors
We’re offering free low-impact exercise classes you can join from the comfort of your home. Join us on YouTube for your choice of live or pre-recorded fitness classes like Soothing Yoga, Bodyfit Chair, Bodyfit Gentle, Chair Yoga, and Arriba.
Sam Casmey has an honours BSc in kinesiology from the University of Waterloo and is a YMCA Canada Trainer Educator. She’s currently the YMCA of Greater Toronto’s Manager of Health & Fitness Adult Programs. In the 20 years she’s been working at the Y, Sam’s taught thousands of fitness classes and trained hundreds of volunteers to teach classes including Arriba, MuscleFit, Bootcamp, and many more. She’s currently spending her time on Sudoku, cryptic crosswords, and books on habits and behaviour change.