Can you stand on one leg? How about while chewing bubble gum at the same time? Then pat the top of your head? Just kidding on the last two. 

How about just standing on one leg? Sounds simple enough. Time how long you can sustain without losing balance or reaching for external support. (Always in the corner wall or chair nearby for safety)

Did you maintain your balance for at least 10 seconds? A study in June by a Brazilian team found that 20 percent of the 1,700 older adults tested couldn’t balance on one leg for 10 seconds or more, according to a recent New York Times article. 

Balance training is often neglected to its more popular big brother, strength training. But it has a major impact on our longevity and quality of life. An inability to balance was associated with a twofold risk of death from any cause within 10 years. 

If you didn’t pass my 10 second SLS test, don’t worry. Balance declines around age 40 (yikes, I’m 41!). But after age 50, it’s very important to incorporate simple balance and strengthening exercises into your weekly routine.  And you don’t need any fancy equipment or a gym membership.

Balance consists of other factors, not just SLS ability. Vision, sensory, and vestibular are the main drivers of our balance. But strength declines play a role as well. 

I’ve written about falls in previous blogs. They are a major problem among seniors. Doctors don’t have an easy way of checking balance, like they do for A1C, or oxygen saturation. But a good test would be three trials of 10 second SLS. 

Here’s five exercises that you can start performing today (always check with your doctor or health care professional before starting). 

Single leg stance:

Stand behind a chair, holding on with both hands. Lift one leg off the ground. Stand for 5 seconds. If easy, remove one hand from the chair, then remove the other if easy. 

Progressions of this are: longer time in stand, 10-30 seconds, closing your eyes. 

Sidekicks

Stand behind a chair, holding with both hands. Lift one leg to the side, keeping pelvis level.

Progression: one hand on chair, holding the leg longer kicked out to side, more reps

Side stepping:

Side step the length of your countertop with both hands on top. Keep toes pointed forward and slightly bend both knees.

Progression: no hands on countertop

Tandem stance:

Standing up straight, put one foot directly in front of the other with your heels aligned with toes. Keep equal weight on both feet, holding for 30 seconds repeating 3 times. Do not hold onto support. 

Progression: close your eyes.

Sit to stand: 

Find a sturdy chair (not a rocker, reclining chair). Stand up and sit down. You can use both arms to push up (for now). Be in control of your body when sitting, no flopping or plopping or dropping) x 5 reps. 

Progression: no arms for pushing off arm rests or chair seat, arms stretched out at shoulder height, then crossing arms over chest. Progress to 10 reps.

-Michael, PTA