Balance and Fitness

by Hannah the Zebra

One of the necessary components of fitness is our balance. When we are young, healthy, active (or any of the above), we take the fact that we can balance for granted because our bodies just do it. Balance is so hard-wired into our system that we only notice when we can’t balance.

And then something happens: a medical diagnosis, an accident, a stroke, age, medication, or any one of a number of possibilities, and all of a sudden, we find that we can’t balance as well as we once did. The reason this is important is that when our balance is off, we tend to fall, and the falls can injure us. And that really complicates things.

Obviously, then, the best thing is to not fall in the first place. But it’s not as easy to accomplish that as it might seem. I have found that when I am sick with an infection, in a lot of pain, or even under a lot of stress, I don’t pay as much attention to how I’m moving through space. It’s not that I’m being careless. (Well, ok, sometimes I am when I’m really in a rush). It’s just that under these circumstances my mind and body are overloaded with other things. Which means that it becomes even more important for my body to be able to balance without my thinking about it.

Luckily, improving balance can be easy to fit into our routine, even on days when we may be feeling crappy from an infusion, or days when we are exhausted just from getting through the day. It doesn’t even take extra time, so it definitely meets my definition of taking incrementally small steps toward improving our fitness.

Ready for the no-extra-time miracle? Stand on one foot while brushing your teeth. Brushing your teeth should take at least 2 minutes, so stand on one foot while you are brushing your upper teeth, and then switch to the other side while you are brushing your lower teeth. Unless you have been doing other exercise, you may find this surprisingly difficult in the beginning. A full minute is a surprisingly long time to stand on one foot without needing to touch the other toe on the ground to regain your balance. And it becomes more difficult when you are doing something else that requires coordination: brushing your teeth. I used to have very good balance, so I was shocked at how difficult I found this task to be. I had to touch my other toe down, or lightly touch the bathroom counter several times each minute to regain my balance. But within 4 – 6 weeks of doing this every day, my balance had improved markedly. You can also do this exercise while standing in a checkout line, or waiting for your partner to get that one last thing before you leave the house, or standing up while watching your favorite show. Thus my claim that the exercise takes no extra time out of your day.

There are, of course, additional ways of improving your balance: taking a long walk, yoga, fencing, playing hopscotch, taking a dance class. All of them more fun than standing on one foot while brushing your teeth. But you don’t usually do those activities every day (with the possible exception of long walks if you have a dog), and I certainly hope that you do brush your teeth every day. 😉

Is this my only fitness goal each day? No. But on days that I have been hooked to an IV for 8 hours, or I’m recovering from a really rough infusion, it is one more little thing that I can do. And there are lots of days where I need to count up the things that I can do, rather than counting up the things that I can’t.

You can find more tips on balance on this page of AARP’s website. And you don’t have to be 50+ to use their site. Many of their tips apply equally well to those of us with serious health conditions. Don’t be afraid to check it out; it won’t make you old, I promise. 😉