The 100% Free Trick That Will Keep You Younger, Longer
United States citizens spend over $2 billion per year on anti-aging skincare products, some of which don’t work as well as they advertise. But research proves that there is an alternative source for youth preservation, and it is entirely free.
That source is balance. While not a silver bullet, balance is one of the most overlooked methods for maintaining your vibrancy well into your mature years. It’s something you never really think about until it’s gone. But just try balancing on one leg for 30 seconds. It’s not as easy as you would think. Attempting that exercise with your eyes closed is even more difficult.
Now for some startling statistics: One in three adults age 65 or above falls each year, resulting in 250,000 hip fractures, 25,000 deaths, and $34 billion in healthcare costs. But before you panic, keep scrolling for ways to improve your balance!
Did you know that vertigo (that horrific, nausea-inducing feeling of falling) can be caused by inner ear infections? Or that gym rats who do countless calf raises per day can have worse balance than a person of the same age whose daily physical activity consists of brushing her teeth while standing on one leg? Well, if you didn’t, it’s time for a refresher course on what affects your balance.
Three main sensory contributors affect your balance: your vision, your proprioceptors on the bottoms of your feet (they communicate position information to the brain), and the tiny hairs in the semicircular canals of your inner ear (they relay motion and gravity information to the brain). In layman’s terms, that means that your eyes, ears, and feet are of utmost importance when it comes to balance maintenance and training.
Before embarking on a lifelong journey of nurturing your balance, assess where you are today. Physical therapists Marilyn Moffat and Carole B. Lewis suggest performing the following test to gauge where you fall on the balance spectrum.
Stand straight, wearing flat, closed-toe shoes, and fold your arms across your chest. With your eyes closed, raise and bend one leg and hold for 45 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
If you held on for 24 to 28 seconds, well done! You’re in the 20- to 49-year-old range. If you held on for 11 to 21 seconds, you’re in the 50- to 59-year-old range. And if you held on for less than 10 seconds, you’re clocking in around 65 years of age.
If you want to improve your score, practice one-leg stands throughout the day, like when you take a call or brush your teeth. Another effective exercise is heel-to-toe tandem walking.
Balance should be as popular in the fitness world as strength training, stretching, and cardio. Sadly, it’s not. But signing up for as many core-training classes as you can is a great way to improve your stability and balance.
Exercise physiologist and wellness coordinator for the University of Maryland Medical System Steven Ehasz sheds some no-nonsense light on the importance of a strong core: “Your core is the essence of everything you do, from your day-to-day activities to your athletic pursuits,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how strong your arms and legs are if they aren’t attached to something equally as strong.”
Even if you’re a regular yogi, try taking a beginners yoga class or workshop to focus specifically on your balance.
Organic Authority writer Krissy Brady admits that her balance “is worse than a drunk person’s,” but she stresses the importance of mastering these not-so-easy “easy” yoga poses. Work on your alignment and focus on your breathing. Once your feet, legs, torso, arms, and head are aligned, take tree pose. (This can count has your one-leg standing exercise for the day.) When you raise your arms overhead, make sure to relax your shoulders.
Repetitive exercises will only improve your balance so much. Great balance is directly related to your motor cortex plasticity, meaning how quickly you can respond to new stimuli.
A recent study was conducted across Germany, Finland, and Denmark, in which scientists compared the data pertaining to their subjects’ motor cortex plasticity. While incredibly fit, endurance athletes such as runners and cross-country skiers proved to have the same elasticity as non-athletes. Skill-trained dancers, gymnasts, and figure skaters, on the other hand, had dramatically higher plasticity. Whereas the repetitive training for endurance athletes often caused the brain to go on autopilot, the unpredictable nature of training for dancers, gymnasts, and skaters caused their neurons to be primed for action.
The moral of the story? Do the unpredictable. Go for a trail run outside, play a game of capture the flag, or challenge a friend to a tennis match. Anything to get you moving in novel ways will help improve your balance.
According to Harvard Health Publications, several commonly prescribed medications, such as anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, sleep aids, and pain relievers, can impair your balance. Ask your doctor if your go-to medicines are worth the potential long-term side effects.
Stop staying still. Don’t blame it on the 10-plus–hour workday. There are quick, easy, and only mildly embarrassing exercises you can do while at your desk. Try sitting down with your feet flat on the ground and your arms held out straight, parallel to your thighs. Stand up and sit down 10 times. For an extra challenge, try doing this with your eyes closed. Breaking up the day with little balance challenges will not only keep you sane after hours in front of the computer but also preserve your balance and keep you young!
Have you been keeping up with balance practice this whole time? Share your favorite moves with us below!