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Redress the balance: Being steady on your feet

Redress the balance: Being steady on your feet

Being steady on your feet might be more important than you realise 

Feeling a bit less stable than before? Maybe you find yourself holding on to handrails more when going down steps or stairs. As we get older, our balance gets worse. But how much does it matter? 

A lot, it turns out. If your balance isn’t great, you’re more likely to fall. That can have disastrous consequences as we age, when bones are often less dense.

Stand on one leg, save your life


Try balancing on one leg for ten seconds to test your health

Research has also shown that balance is crucial for life expectancy. A study of 1,702 people aged 51 to 75 published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine last year [2022] found that participants who couldn’t stand on one leg for ten seconds were nearly twice as likely to die in the next ten years.

"Participants who couldn’t stand on one leg for ten seconds were nearly twice as likely to die in the next ten years"

Falls could be one reason why, but that’s unlikely to be the whole story. Individuals who were in worse health were more likely to fail the ten-second test. 

How your body communicates with itself


Balancing requires multiple components within your body

There are three components to balance. The first is the visual system, which shows us whether we’re tilting. Then the vestibular system in the inner ear sends information to our brain about the motion of our head in relation to our surroundings. Thirdly, proprioception is our body’s ability to sense its location, movement and actions. 

"People with ear problems that cause dizziness [...] are more likely to have balance issues"

People with ear problems that cause dizziness, or with joint problems or muscle weakness are more likely to have balance issues. If you suffer from dizziness, see your GP to find out the reason.

Get your strength up

 
Exercise goes a long way to helping you stay steady on your feet

But there’s a lot you can do yourself to improve physical strength. If you exercise, you’re ahead of the game. One study found that a group that did 32 weeks of resistance training improved their ability to stand on one foot by 25 per cent and another group that did 32 weeks of aerobic exercise increased theirs by 31 per cent.

" If you exercise, you’re ahead of the game"

Otherwise, improve your balance by walking, cycling or climbing stairs – this will strengthen muscles in the lower body – or by practising yoga, pilates or tai chi. Or simply practise balancing on one leg – hold onto a chair to begin with, if necessary. 

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