Balance is one of the most underrated aspects of fitness. Body fat and muscle are the major players that people are focused on. But it is your performance of physical training that largely determines that fat and muscle on your body. Balance is crucial in performing functional exercises and moving around in your day to day life. It is also something most people take for granted until it’s too late. As people get older their sense of balance decreases. Every year millions of older people (65 yrs +) are injured by falling. Here are a few statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury.
- Each year, 2.5 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries.3
- Over 700,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture.
- Each year at least 250,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures.
- More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling,6 usually by falling sideways.
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
- Adjusted for inflation, the direct medical costs for fall injuries are $34 billion annually. Hospital costs account for two-thirds of the total.
By performing specific balance exercises you can help maintain your sense of balance and strengthen the muscles involved, thus lessening the chance of being injured by falling. I have all of my clients perform balance exercises, regardless of age and many have told me that they have stepped onto slippery ground and been able to catch themselves without falling. They all credit the balance exercises they perform.
My favorite balance exercise of all is the 1 foot toe touch. It is very simple to learn but not so easy to master. Plus it is actually kind of fun because it can be so challenging. So how do you do the 1 foot toe touch?
First start by lifting one foot off of the ground until your knee is at hip level. If this is too hard you can lift your foot just an inch off of the ground, or anywhere inbetween those two points ( 1 inch off of the ground or hip height) to get started. Then bend down and touch your toe without setting your raised foot on the ground. Stand back up as tall as you can while raising your knee back up to hip height. Build up to 5 toe touches per foot without setting your foot down once. When you can do that you are ready to make them a little more challenging.
Here are a few tips to get you started.
- First make sure you have the balance and strength to stand still on one foot. You may have to build this strength up before you attempt to bend down. Make sure you can stand on each foot for at least 30 seconds each.
- Stand next to a wall to catch yourself if you begin to fall over
- If going down all the way to your toe is too challenging, start by touching your knee cap and work your way down
- Keep your eyes focused on one point the entire time you perform the exercise. You use your vision for balance and this will help keep you oriented in space.
- Put your mind in your foot. This is your point of contact with the ground and will tell you quickly where your balance is going. It is much easier to keep your balance if you make small adjustments through your foot than large ones with your body.
The 1 foot toe touch may not look like a hard exercise but it works many muscles that don’t always get the focus they deserve. It works all of the muscles of the lower leg, promoting ankle stability along with balance. This is especially important for anyone who has ever suffered an ankle sprain. It also works the hamstrings, glutes and all of the muscles along the spine.
Once you are consistently getting 5 reps on each side without setting your foot down you can try more advanced versions of the toe touch.
- Try standing on some balancing foam or a BOSU ball to increase ankle stability and reaction time. Only attempt this if you have strong, healthy ankles.
- Hold a weight or some dumbbells in your hands while performing the exercise. Try finishing the movement with your arms extended up over your head for a real challenge.
- Close your eyes. Remember that you use your vision for balance. Closing your eyes makes it much harder.
- Think you’ve got it all mastered. Try standing on foam, with a weight in your hand while keeping your eyes closed. Good luck with that one!
If you perform 5 reps of the 1 foot toe touch on each leg a couple times a week you will find your sense of balance and ankle stability improve dramatically. It only takes a minute (literally) and can be done anywhere, at any time. So try it now and see how it goes. It just may end up saving your life!