What exercises are best for improving balance?
Your options are legion. Tai chi, for instance, with its flowing movements and poses, rapidly builds balance. A study published last year found that older people who completed several weeks of tai chi classes performed much better afterward on a variety of balance tests than they had at the study’s start. They also generally performed better than another group of volunteers who had spent those same weeks learning ballroom dancing. But dancing did have benefits; the waltzers and fox-trotters could now close their eyes and stand much more steadily than they could before.
Similarly, yoga generally enhances balance, even among people who enjoy fine bodily equilibrium. In a study published in January, for instance, collegiate male athletes displayed better balance after 10 weeks of yoga classes than a control group of athletes who did not change their routines.
But you also can become less wobbly without attending classes or even leaving your living room. “All you need is some space, a table or wall nearby to steady yourself if needed, and a pillow,” said Jay Hertel, a professor of sports medicine at the University of Virginia and expert on balance training.
Simply stand near a wall and raise and bend one of your legs. Press that leg against your other leg, stork style. Try not to sway. If you start to topple, steady yourself against the wall. Hold this stance for as long as possible, then switch legs and repeat.
Seem easy? Do it with your eyes closed, or stand on a thick pillow, Dr. Hertel said, which makes the ground unstable. (A wobble board also works, but pillows are cheaper.) It may help, too, to ritualize the practice. “Stand on one leg while you brush your teeth,” Dr. Hertel suggested, “and close your eyes if it’s too easy. It may sound ridiculous, but if you do that for two or three minutes a day, you’re working your balance really well.”