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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

Be Better Balanced: Exercises Help Us Stay on Top of Age-Related Decline

Dec 01, 2015 03:51PM ● By Nicole Fevrier Davis

I watched as a beautiful 48-year-old woman in relatively good shape teetered back and forth on a Bosu ball. She looked nervous, even scared, of the six-inch-high apparatus that she would ultimately master within minutes. This was an important moment for me as a certified personal trainer—an opportunity to observe her proprioceptive abilities and her agility. 

Many people over the age of 40 begin to worry about their balance or their ability to negotiate difficult terrain, narrow walkways or stairs. So it was no surprise to me that my new client, Sandy, named “improved balance” as second on her list of goals; the first was “overall tone.” After that were numerous smaller goals: “lose five pounds,” “smaller waistline,” etc. “I want to get my sense of balance back, if possible,” she told me. 

Sandy’s goal is important, because a fall in your 40s can set you back a little, but a fall in your 50s, 60s or 70s can be devastating, even lethal. Most people don’t realize that as we age, our range of motion, our circle of physical influence, diminishes with lack of physical activity. And that lack of physical activity prevents our inner ear’s ability to practice balance.

The inner ear and our proprioceptive senses need to be challenged on a daily basis, just as any muscle group must be challenged if it’s going to become stronger, more adaptable and better able to respond under stressful situations. In fact, the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) recommends including both agility and balance exercises in all phases of an individual’s exercise program, whether he or she is a beginning or advanced exerciser.

I am certified in Tai Chi for Better Balance, developed by Fuzhong Li, PhD, of Oregon Research Institute. It’s a great program that creates an exercise habit enhancing balance and proprioceptive ability as well as lower-body strength. Although this particular program has limited availability, there are other exercises you can do daily to improve your balance over time. Some of the beginner exercises are part of both the Tai Chi for Better Balance program and the NASM model of personal training.

The best way to start is to create a safe yet unstable environment in which to test and explore balance. First, stand on the floor, feet parallel and knees slightly bent. Shift your weight completely to your left leg and tap your right toe in front of you, to the side and behind you without any weight on the tapping toe. Then repeat on the right side. After you have mastered this exercise, try doing the same thing with your leg extended in the air—no weight on it. The next step might be to stand on a Bosu ball or other balance board and repeat the same exercise.

I find that after just a few minutes of balance exercises, my clients quickly adapt to them. So the idea is to continually incorporate more challenging exercises into the workout. In the process, clients may get frustrated, feel uncomfortable or worry that they look “silly” (or, as Sandy told me, “OK, I don’t like that; I look stupid. Let’s not do that again.”), but our inner ear thrives on what seems uncomfortable to us. We must also release any preconceived notions of how we should look while practicing balance.

Never let your ego prevent you or your body from doing what’s right for you. You will be safer and happier for it!

Nicole Fevrier Davis works at Lifetime Athletic, 1 Westchester Ave., Harrison, NY. She is an NASM- and AFAA-certified personal trainer, a speaker, psychic, and the author of Unlock Your Body Secrets on Read more from her at