By Vivian Goldschmidt, MA
How’s Your Balance? Take This 30-Second Test To Find Out
Today you’ll discover a simple test so you can determine whether your balance is in top shape or if you need to take action to improve it. In addition, you’ll also get an easy yet effective exercise that you can practice anytime anywhere to enhance your balance.
Let’s begin by exploring this very important topic…
What’s Involved In Maintaining Balance?
Without your having to think about it, your body does an astonishing balancing act every day. And I am not just talking about your busy schedule! For you to stay up on two feet, a delicate interplay occurs between your eyes, ears, brain, and muscles.
Visual cues from our eyes give us information about where we are in space. This is why it can be difficult to keep your balance with your eyes closed. Your eyes also send signals to your brain, telling your joints and muscles where and how to move. For example, if you see an obstacle in your path, this visual cue will be sent to your brain which will then signal your muscles to walk around or over the object.
Your inner ear is also involved in the balancing process. Among its tiny, delicate mechanisms is the semi-circular canal. This fluid-filled tube alerts your central nervous system as to the position of your head.
You also have a built-in mechanism that tells your nervous system where your arms and legs are in space. It’s called internal spatial orientation, and it’s the automatic sense that lets you know your arm is out to the side or your leg is pointing forward (for example).
Now let’s move on so you can find out if your balance is up to par.
The 30-Second Balance Test
First, you’ll need to find a partner to time you, because your eyes will be closed. It’s also important to have someone close by in case you fall.
- Stand barefoot on a hard floor. Now close your eyes.
- Bend one knee and lift the foot – if you’re left-handed, stand on your left leg and lift the right foot; do the opposite if you’re right-handed. You don’t need to lift it high; even though your eyes are closed, you can probably estimate about 6 inches off the floor.
- Ask the person with you to check his or her watch, and time how long you can hold that position without wobbling or opening your eyes.
(For example, if test 1 was 4 seconds, test 2 was 8 seconds, and test 3 was 6 seconds, you’d add up 4, 8, and 6 to get 18. Divide by 3, and your average balance time is 6 seconds.)
Not surprisingly, the chart shows that the number of seconds decreases with age. In the 25-30 year group, for example, the average eyes-closed balance time is 28 seconds. For 50-year-olds, it’s 9 seconds; 65-year-olds average 5 seconds, and 70-year-olds 4 seconds.
Balance Tends To Decrease With Age
As we get older, our eyesight tends to diminish, throwing a wrench in the first step in good balance (vision). Muscles tend to shrink and your reaction time may be a bit slower. But there’s good news, because…
You Can Improve Your Balance Regardless Of Age
You don’t have to be resigned to poorer balance as you age. You can take action to improve and maintain it.
You know how important balance is, and many of you are probably already doing the “Flamingo trick,” which involves standing on one leg while doing an every day chore.
A Recent Study Confirms What We Have Known For Years!
A study published last year shows that there’s scientific validity to the Flamingo trick, but you already knew that! Researchers conducted a trial to study the effectiveness of the “dynamic flamingo exercise” in preventing falls. They found that periodically standing on one leg does in fact improve balance, prevent falls, and even improve independent living.1
Once again, something very simple can have a big impact.
In a meta-analysis review of 17 trials involving a total of 4305 participants aged 60 and older, researchers concluded that regularly engaging in balance exercises not only prevented falls, but actually prevented injury (including fractures) when falls did occur. Even in the case of severe falls, injuries were less common among those who exercised regularly.2
Improve Your Balance With Bone-Healthy Nutrition And Exercise
The research is clear: regular balance exercises prevent falls and fractures.
Additionally, certain foods also promote balance. Foods rich in a substance called resveratrol actually prevent neural cell death and markedly improve balance and coordination. Red grapes, blueberries, cranberries, and peanuts are rich in resveratrol.
A good place to get started with balancing exercises is with this simple move you can do just about anywhere.
The Side Leg Lift
- Begin by standing near a wall or chair so you can catch yourself if necessary. Wear comfortable shoes, and stand with knees slightly bent.
- Place both your hands on your waist.
- Gently lift one leg out to the side, just a few inches off the floor.
- Bring the leg back down to the starting position and repeat.
- Do a set of 10, then switch to the other leg and do a set of 10 on that side.
- Keep switching sides until you’ve done 3 sets of 10 on each side.
I suggest you practice balancing exercises for a few weeks, and then repeat the balance test.