Balance exercises improve your ability to control and stabilize your body's position. This type of exercise is particularly important for older adults — as you age, your ability to know where you are in space, called proprioception, gets worse, which contributes to a decline in balance, said said Kelly Drew, an exercise physiologist with the American College of Sports Medicine.
But balance exercises can benefit people of any age, including people who have gained or lost a lot of weight or those who become pregnant, which can throw off your center of gravity, Drew said.
These exercises are also important for reducing injury risk. For example, if you sprain your ankle, you could be at risk for reinjury if you don't retrain your balance, said said Dr. Edward Laskowski, co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center in Rochester, Minnesota. That's because when you sprain your ankle, the muscles around the joint stop contracting in a coordinated fashion, and this destabilizes the joint, Laskowski said. If you do balance exercises after the injury, it retrains the muscles to contract together, which better stabilizes the joint during movements and prevents reinjury, he said.
And most athletes can benefit from balance training to help them maintain balance during their sport activity. "[In] almost all athletic endeavors, you're going to be on one foot at a time while you're doing things," said , said Jason Schatzenpahl, a fitness specialist at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center in Aurora, Colorado.
Examples of balance exercises include:
- Shifting your weight from side to side
- Standing on one foot
- Walking heel to toe
- Using a balance board or stability ball
- Doing tai chi, yoga or Pilates.
Benefits of doing balance exercise include:
- Prevents falls
- Reduces the risk of lower-extremity injuries, such as knee and ankle injuries
- Improves proprioception (the ability to know where you are in space)
How much balance exercise do you need?
There's no limit to how much balance training you can do safely — you can do it every day if you want, Laskowski said. A 2015 review study found that doing three to six balance training sessions per week, with four balance exercises per training session, for 11 to 12 weeks was effective in improving people's balance.
How can you avoid injury when doing balance exercise?
The main risk of doing balance exercises is that you might fall, Drew said. Make sure you have something close to you that you can hold on to if you start to fall, Drew said. If you use equipment such as a stability board, you should make sure you are on a flat, stable and nonslippery surface, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
Start with an easy balance exercise, like shifting your weight from side to side or standing on one foot for a few seconds, and gradually make your sessions more challenging — for example, by increasing the time you spend on one foot, the ACSM recommends. Also, you should start on a stable surface and in a single position before adding any movements or balance exercise equipment.
Original article on Live Science.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.