Early in life, your eyes, ears, muscles, brain, and nerves learn to work together to keep you upright and steady on your feet. But with age, balancing skills tend to become less dependable, especially if you don't use them regularly. Staying physically active can help you keep your balance as you age by keeping your nerves, muscles, and reflexes in good working order.
But are you doing enough to maintain your balancing act? Find out how much your balance skills are affecting your functional age by taking this simple static-balance test:
How long can you stand on one leg -- eyes closed -- before losing your balance?
- Find a partner and a watch. Enlist the help of a friend or family member who has a watch with a second hand and five minutes to spare.
- Take off your shoes. Stand barefoot on a flat, hard surface. Ask your partner to hold the watch and stand close by to catch you in case you start to fall.
- Close your eyes.
- Lift your foot. Lift one foot (left foot if you’re right-handed, right foot if you’re left-handed) about 6 inches off the floor, bending your knee at a 45-degree angle.
Ask your partner to start timing.
- Hold this position. Keep still as long as you can without jiggling or teetering, falling, or opening your eyes.
- Stop the clock. Stop timing if the raised foot begins to lower or touch the ground, if you begin to sway, or if you open your eyes.
- Repeat the test three times. Note the time for each test, and calculate the average of the three times by adding them together and dividing by 3.
- Check your average against this results chart.
- What's your balance-based RealAge?
Balance Time: Balance-Based RealAge
4 seconds: 70 years
5 seconds: 65 years
7 seconds: 60 years
8 seconds: 55 years
9 seconds: 50 years
12 seconds: 45 years
16 seconds: 40 years
22 seconds: 30-35 years
28 seconds: 25-30 years
Improve Your Balance
Almost any activity that keeps you on your feet and moving will help preserve your body's balancing system. In particular, exercises that force your muscles to bear weight and overcome resistance will help support your joints and improve your stability. Try exercising to improve balance.
Studies have shown that tai chi, a gentle form of ancient Chinese martial arts, improves balance, flexibility, cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength, and endurance. Slow, steady motions of the head, eyes, body, and limbs are performed in coordination with breathing.
Stretch and Strengthen
Stretching is also a great way to improve your range of motion, flexibility, and balance. Research suggests that stretching a few times a week with a set of light weights in your hands may bring even better results than stretching empty-handed.
Consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program for the first time, or if you have a medical condition that affects your ability to exercise safely. Healthy people should aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week.