Perhaps most important to maintaining balance is building the muscles in your core – the trunk of your body. By focusing on this part of your body, you should experience immediate improvements in balance.
Training your core muscles to aid balance
To work on your core muscles, try incorporating balance into your everyday life. Try rocking from the balls of your feet to the heels while doing the washing up, or invest in a balance board to practice on.
You don’t need any equipment to work your balance – you can simply hold onto the door frame or the back of a chair while you try standing and bending your knees, or walking on the spot, for example. The narrower the space between your feet, the more difficult it is to balance, so start with your feet wider apart and as you get more confident spread your feet apart. Once you’re confident like that, you can try the same exercise on one leg. Finally, when you’ve conquered that, try it with your eyes closed.
Training all your muscles to aid balance
Although your core muscles are most important, all your muscles are used when you’re moving around. And, if your muscles are weak, you’re more prone to stumbling and falling. But even if you get regular exercise in the form of walking, for example, you can do more to ensure stronger muscles.
You need to do two things: build muscles and surprise your muscles. To build more muscle, or increase muscle mass, you need to repeat an exercise move until you feel your muscles working hard. It shouldn’t be painful, but you should feel as though you nearly can’t complete the last few repetitions of a particular exercise. If your muscles feel a little sore the day after, you know you’re building muscles.
You also need to surprise your muscles. So, for example, if you usually exercise on a stationary bike, your leg muscles are probably quite used to pedalling. So surprise your leg muscles with a different strength-building exercise, such as doing squats (bending at the knee and hip until your thigh is parallel to the floor) or lunges (taking a step forward, then lowering your body), for example. By surprising your muscles, you’ll build more muscle mass.
Read our guide to strengthening your muscles at home
How hearing can affect your balance
But it’s not only about your muscles. As you age, your ear becomes less efficient at differentiating sounds and that can affect your balance. Why? Because there is liquid in your inner ear, along with small hairs, that work together to stimulate your auditory nerve – and your brain relies on the auditory nerve to maintain balance.
See your GP to check your ears for a build up of wax as this can be a cause of lack of hearing. If you are still having problems, have your hearing checked. It could be that you need a lightweight hearing aid. You can also help improve your brain’s ability to help you keep balance by doing regular balancing exercises, as outlined above.
Do you need a hearing test? Read our guide and find out.
Balance-boosting exercises to try at home
Some forms of exercise are particularly effective at improving balance – yoga and tai chi, for example. But you don’t necessarily have to sign up for a special class to improve your own balance. Try some of these moves at home
Balance on one foot like a stork and while holding onto the back of a chair or similar, extend your other leg, bent, out behind you. Repeat 25 times, then switch sides. As you get more comfortable with this exercise, you can try removing your supporting hand. You can then try putting both your hands out in front of you.
Standing on your tiptoes, put your arms out to the sides, hold that position for a count of ten and repeat 25 times. Once you can do that comfortably, try adding some movement to your arms, waving them up and down a short distance or forward and backwards. This makes it more difficult to stay on your toes, but it’s great for building core muscle strength.
Back to the wall: Stand with your back to the wall, then gradually allow your upper body to lower until your upper thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold that position for a count of ten and repeat. This works your leg and stomach muscles hard, which is ideal for balance.
Read our guide to tai chi and our introduction to yoga