This isn’t going to be an article about how to improve your standing with your local branch of your favourite bank. This is about a different type of balance – they type you need if you want to stand up comfortable on the higher branches of your favourite tree without flailing around and eventually falling off ridiculously and landing painfully, asking yourself how you had been so stupid to even try, knowing that you’ve always had poor balance.
Throughout my school years, I had always had a reasonable sense of balance. I didn’t have any issues climbing trees or posing like a flamingo. In those days, of course, we had to do physical exercise almost every day and most of us were in pretty good shape. As we got older, we discovered the joys of not having to work so hard physically, and being able to eat pizza and drink beer pretty much whenever we wanted. Which is why, when I graduated from university and joined the military, I was far behind the recruits who had joined straight from school, in terms of balance.
With the doctor having ruled out the possibility of any medical conditions causing my poor balance (resulting in sloppy marching and so on), my drill sergeant explained quite loudly that I had less balance than an elephant on ice skates and that I’d have to work doubly hard on my fitness if I was to cease being the most slovenly and worthless soldier he’d ever had the misfortune to lay eyes on, did I understand?
I understood that I was going to have to do a lot of PT, but came to realise that fitness is the key to improving balance. So the first thing you should do if you know you have poor balance is to work on your physical fitness. You can check your progress by doing balance exercises such as standing on one foot whilst stretching the other leg, walking heel-to-toe and Tai Chi.
Balance isn’t all about having strong legs – they aren’t the most important thing if you’re upside-down and supporting yourself with one hand – but they are very important. After all, we support ourselves with our feet much more than we do with our hands. So it’s important to give your limbs regular workouts to build the main muscles. Squats are good for your legs as they build the muscles in your calves and thighs. Doing balancing exercises with dumbbells is also a great idea. If you ever find yourself running on top of a wall with twelve-foot drops either side, on foot in front of the other, carrying an assault rifle, with a hundred pounds of gear in your backpack and being screamed at to run faster, you’ll be glad you did balance training with weights.
As I mentioned before, Tai Chi is a great way to improve your balance and it also helps you to relax and focus your mind. Yoga is also good for this. These exercises are not anywhere near as easy as they look, and so take time to master, but they leave you feeling incredible. Yoga is easy to do at home, too. Pilates also has a good reputation along these lines, but I haven’t tried it, so you might want to look into it yourself.
If you can’t ride a bicycle, now is the time to learn. It will do wonders for your balance, especially at slow speeds. If you think you’re a bit clever at riding a bicycle, pop yourself onto a unicycle. Once you’ve learned to ride it well, there’s no reason it shouldn’t replace the bicycle for getting around on, plus it’s smaller. For longer journeys you can buy yourself an electric powered unicycle or similar product – take a look at the options featured at http://theelectricrider.com/.
Once you’ve found the exercises that work for you, make sure you keep them up. Having good balance is important for all of us as it helps us avoid falls and accidents, recover from injuries and surgeries and becomes more and more important to us as we get older.
On a final note, keeping fit in general means you’ll be in the right state of mind to look after that other balance we mention at the beginning, too.