How Balance Can Improve Longevity
Stand up right now. Lift one leg and see if you can balance for 10 seconds without grabbing onto anything. While this balance test and others like it may seem rudimentary, the results can actually reveal some key insight into your longevity.
Your sense of balance is an oft-forgotten factor in living a long and healthy life. New research has found the vital importance of maintaining balance throughout adulthood. Adults who maintain good balance are less likely to be obese, have lower rates of cardiovascular disease, and even live longer than adults who cannot pass a balance test.
A new study by a team of Brazilian researchers demonstrated the importance of maintaining balance throughout adulthood. The researchers followed 1,700 participants between the ages of 51 to 75. At the first checkup, the participant’s weight, body fat, and waist size were measured. During the second checkup, researchers tested the participants’ balance by asking them to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without holding onto anything for support. The participants were given three tries to stand on one leg with their arms by their sides and eyes facing forward. Overall, one in five failed the test.
There were several trends among those who did not pass the 10-second balance test. The older the participant, the more likely they were to fail the test. Moreover, those who failed the test tended to be in poorer health than the participants that passed. Researchers found that those who did not pass the test were more likely to:
Have cardiovascular disease
Have unhealthy blood cholesterol levels
Further, participants who failed the balance test were three times more likely to have type 2 diabetes.
In the 10 years following the study, 17.5% of participants who failed the balance test died, compared to only 4.5% of those who passed. This means that those unable to balance on one leg for 10 seconds had an 85% higher risk of death by any cause.
But, the good news is that it’s never too late to improve your balance! We’ve compiled some great balance-enhancing exercises you can easily do in your home to increase your ability to balance.
Why is balance so important?
Before delving into how you can increase your balance, it's important to understand why balance is so important in the first place. Balance is so vital to longevity because it helps keep us agile and upright. Falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide, and balance is a protective factor against this. Over 650,000 people die every year from falls throughout the world.
Unlike aerobic fitness, muscular strength, and flexibility, which gradually decline as we age, balance remains intact until age 60. But, after age 60, your sense of balance will rapidly decrease. And, once you lose your ability to balance, your risk of falling and seriously injuring yourself increases.
Moreover, researchers have connected balance and strength with life span, finding that the ability to balance on one leg for 30 seconds, walk at a brisk pace, and being able to rise from the floor to standing are all associated with greater longevity.
Beyond longevity, having good balance has a number of other benefits throughout your body:
Better posture → Balance and good posture are actually closely related. You need good posture to have good balance, and conversely, improving your balance will subsequently improve your balance. Improving your posture will help to prevent limitations like hunched shoulders, anterior pelvic tilt, and reduced upper back mobility.
Improved cognitive functioning → Several studies have found that regularly doing balance training exercises will improve memory and spatial awareness. The results of these studies suggest that when you challenge the region of the brain responsible for balance, it will benefit the brain as a whole.
Improved joint stability→ Having good balance will strengthen your ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder joints. And, when these joints are stable, they're less likely to be injured. This is true for runners, especially. Incorporating balance training into your routine will keep your joints strong and stable.
Prevent back pain → Back pain is often caused by weak abdominal muscles, which connect to the spine. If those muscles are weak, your back has to do more work to keep you upright and stable. Luckily, balance is a great way to strengthen those abdominal muscles and help to relieve that back pain.
How to increase your balance:
The good news is that balance training goes hand-in-hand with strength training. The more you work out the muscles in your core, feet, glutes, and legs, the better your balance will be. This means that you don’t have to do balance-specific workouts like yoga or Tai Chi to improve your balance. You’re already bettering your balance if you do exercises like weight training, aerobics classes, or dance classes. Experts agree that any type of exercise seems to help improve balance and decrease fall risk.
However, not all exercises will improve your balance equally. Researchers have found that several specific exercises will pack the greeting punch in bettering your balance.
Here are some of the best exercises you can do for your balance:
Body weight squats → Keeping your toes forward, stand with your feet hip distance apart. Bend your knees and lower yourself until your thighs are nearly parallel to the floor and try to keep your weight in your heels. You can keep your arms beside you or extended in front if you need more stability. Repeat 10 times. You can also hold a dumbbell to add more difficulty.
Tandem stance → Stand straight with one foot directly in front of the other, with your heel touching the toes on the foot in the back. Keep your knees slightly bent with your weight balanced between both feet. Hold for 30 seconds before switching feet. Repeat three times. For increased difficulty, close your eyes.
Single leg stance → Stand behind a chair and hold on to the back with two hands. Lift one leg off the ground in front of you, bending the knee to a 90-degree angle, and hold it for 5 seconds. Repeat five times and then repeat on the other side. If this is too easy, try with one hand or close your eyes.
Bird dog → Begin on the ground on your hands and knees with your back straight. Lift one arm straight in front of you and extend the opposite leg behind you. You will be balancing on one knee and one hand. Hold for five to 10 seconds before switching to the other side.
Lateral leg lifts → Start in the same position as the single leg stance, standing behind a chair holding onto the back with both arms. Lift one leg to the side, trying to stay as still as possible. Switch to the other side and repeat five times. To make it harder, let go of the chair or hold your leg up for longer.
These exercises are easy and quick ways to make a big impact on your balance. You can also incorporate balance practice throughout the day- try standing on one leg while brushing your teeth or washing the dishes. Just make sure you don’t practice your balance when you’re in the kitchen or near sharp objects.
For more information about achieving optimal health at the Johnson Center, click here to contact us. Or email our office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 276-235-3205 to schedule your complimentary discovery call.
The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!