Improve your balance in one minute a day

It’s Balance Awareness Week, so here are some tips to improve the skill many people take for granted.

Balance is crucial to prevent you falling, but a scientific study also shows that people who are unable to stand on one leg for 10 seconds are more likely to die within the next 10 years.

That may sound dramatic, but when you break it down, all it means is that a simple balance test could be a useful way to measure health. Researchers in Brazil studied 1,702 people aged between 51 and 75 (with an average age of 61) for 11 years, and found that those who couldn’t stand on one leg for 10 seconds were 84% more likely to die in the next decade.

People who failed the test tended to be in poorer health, with underlying conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. But if you’re trying to stand on one leg as you read this and failing, don’t panic, help is at hand.

People standing on one leg as advised by Dr Michael Mosley to help you live longerCredit: Shutterstock/LightField Studios

How to balance better

The good news is that you can improve your balance with some simple exercises – and it’s never too late to start. Of course, the better your balance, the less likely you are to fall over. 

One in three adults over the age of 65 and half of people over 80 will fall once a year. It’s not always serious, but there’s always a risk of breaking a bone and having to stay in hospital or also losing your confidence.

Dr Michael Mosley, a longstanding advocate of standing on one leg, tells Saga Exceptional: “People often forget about balance, because unless you do it, you’re going to lose it. And the second most common cause of accidental death worldwide is falling over.”

Yoga, Pilates and tai chi can help to improve your balance, but it’s easy to start with a simple daily practice at home. As Dr Mosley says in his Just One Thing podcast, better balance also improves your posture. “When I brush my teeth in the morning, I basically do a half minute on one leg, half a minute on the other and repeat, and then again in the evening, and find it’s a great way to improve my balance,” he says.

“Try it at home, but make sure you’ve got something close to grab onto to avoid falling over. Can you do it for more than 10 seconds? If you can’t, you probably need to work on it a bit. You may only manage 10 or 15 seconds, but you’ll get better.”

Make standing on one leg part of your daily routine

If you haven’t done much exercise for a while or think that standing on one leg might be too much for you, the NHS has some simple balance exercises you can try. Set aside time to do them daily, such as when you’re washing up or waiting for the kettle to boil, and you’ll see gradual improvements in what you are able to do and an increase in confidence. But if you notice a sudden change to your balance, go to your GP and get it checked out.

Sport biomechanics coach Harry Snell tells Saga Exceptional: “Although balance can decline as you get older, it’s individual, depending on lots of factors such as lifestyle or being on medication that could cause dizziness. If you can’t see as well or have issues with your inner ear, this could affect balance too.

“You start to experience sarcopenia, which is age-related muscle loss as early as your thirties, so the result of this is less stability in terms of both strength and balance.”

But taking a minute out of your day to practise balance exercises reaps rewards. “I like the saying, ‘thrive, don’t survive’,” says Snell. “You have to be proactive to live more healthily. Doing these balance exercises is good for you, your friends or family who might have to care for you, and for the NHS.”

Hannah Verdier

Written by Hannah Verdier

Updated:

Hannah Verdier writes about fitness, health, relationships, podcasts, TV and the joy of reinventing yourself at 50 and beyond. She’s a graduate of teenage music bible Smash Hits and has a side hustle as a fitness trainer who shows people who hated PE at school how to love exercise.

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