If you’re looking for the most fun of all exercise types, you found it. Balance work is like a game. To have even more fun, do it with someone to see who can balance longest.
This is the 14th installment in a new WorkWell series, Healthy Living Basics for Everyone. The sanely paced plan helps you with nutrition, exercise and lifestyle and includes a mental component that helps clarify goals and identify what might hold you back.
Honing your balance is also tremendously helpful, especially in older age. It can be a bone-saver, if not a life-saver.
There are two general types of balance exercises:
1. Static balance exercise
What it is: You balance on a stable surface, in one position and without moving any body parts. Simple example: Place your hands on your hips, and then tuck your right foot behind your left foot, keeping your right foot off the ground. More advanced static balance exercises include inversions such as handstands.
Why it’s good: It’s the simplest type of balance exercise to practice. If you’ve never done balance work, start with static exercises and keep them simple: Stand near a wall, table or the like, gently using the prop for support as you try to balance on one leg (use the simple exercise just mentioned). Once you can hold several basic static balance positions unaided for 10-20 seconds each, move on to dynamic exercises or more complex static positions. (Caution: Arm balances and inversions require precautions, including making sure you have adequate strength, understand technique and know which muscles to recruit.)
2. Dynamic balance exercise
What it is: You balance while moving, whether that means body parts or being on an unstable surface. Static balance positions can be transformed into dynamic balance work. For example, if you’re balancing on one leg with your hands resting on your hips (static), you can make the exercise dynamic by moving one or both of your arms in circles.
Why it’s good: Life is dynamic. You’re probably going to need to tap into balance when you’re in motion: slipping while you walk, getting bumped, lunging for your phone as it falls.
Eventually, you can combine balance work with other types of exercise. Walking forward lunges, for example, combine balance (shifting from one leg to the other), stretching (hip flexors, hamstrings) and strengthening (quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteal muscles).
Or eventually you can challenge your balance even more by closing your eyes while you practice (first easier exercises, then harder ones, of course).
Also, tai chi and most types of yoga and are excellent ways to practice balance.
Aside from classifications, you can play with balance in lots of ways, getting better at it with time: Walk backwards, cross one foot over the other as you walk forward, pause on one leg as you go up stairs, slowly shift from foot to foot as you brush your teeth. Just be sure you’re progressively challenging yourself so that you don’t wind up falling and getting injured — exactly the type of thing balance exercises mean to prevent.
Journalist Mitra Malek regularly creates content for wellness-focused outlets, including Yoga Journal, where she was an editor. Learn more at www.mitramalek.com.