Balance is one of those things that is good for just about everything including a balanced diet, stress management, and it is also a great physical exercise. There’s nothing you do that won’t improve with good balance. Balance is also the main reason trainers prefer to use free weights over machines. When you use free weights or pick up rocks, tires, medicine balls, etc. they challenge support muscles throughout your body, which strengthen the functional muscles you need to thrive in everyday life.
When you strengthen muscles related to balance and structure you are able to exert more force with less energy. Essentially, you can exert force equal to the amount you can withstand without losing your balance which is why isolated machines are not preferred, the machines will absorb the force your body should be adjusting to. This is also why play is so important, you need to have good balance to maneuver yourself and quickly adapt to real-time changes in the game. Through play, balance incrementally increases over time. There are some great exercises you can do to develop balance.
Single leg balance
This exercise is especially good for older and/or metabolically challenged individuals. You simply stand on one leg for a minute and then switch to the other leg for a minute. Doing this daily can build bone density and improve full body strength. Make sure you are close to a wall to prevent falls.
Vibrational plates are used by astronauts to maintain and rebuild muscle and bone density after being in space. There are two ways in which vibrational plates work. They offer micro-challenges to your balance and they also cause micro-impacts to your skeletal system. Vibrational plates are a great way to build bone density, strength, and balance. Be careful to not overdo it! This is a legitimate exercise and it is easy to stand on these for too long.
Balance boards are great for improving balance, especially when using a standing desk. Essentially, you stand on a flat wooden plank with a rounded surface underneath. Maintaining your balance will stop you from feeling stiff when using a standing desk and improve structural muscles. This could also be used in place of the single leg standing exercise, I would start with 3-minutes and build from there.
Slacklining is the most fun exercise on this list and will you make you feel like a kid again. The first time I used a slackline I felt like I was back on the playground testing my balance and jumping from rock to rock to avoid “hot lava”. Be careful! This is also the most dangerous balance challenge in this article. It’s not inherently dangerous, but there is the potential for losing your footing and possibly falling from a height of 1 – 2 feet off the ground.
To properly slackline, you will need to find 2 trees of sufficient strength, you will a tree guard and slack line around both trees. Then you tighten the slack line and you are good to go! There are some great videos of people using the slackline like a tight rope trampoline, I’m amazed at the stunts that people can perform on slacklines. To get basic exercise, you can balance on one foot for 1 – 5 minutes and step forward to the other foot for an additional 1 – 5 minutes. You can also just spend time walking back and forth.
Having done Chen style Tai Chi for over 10 years, I can attest to the effectiveness of the exercise. It’s fun to do and, as you get better at it, incredibly relaxing. Having years of experience in other martial arts, Tai Chi has made me better at all of them. I can better defend against getting tackled, my punches and kicks are stronger (and faster!), I also conserve more energy when practising. Through practice, you might find that you are more relaxed in general, conserve energy through improved balance and feel better overall.
Yoga can be just as beneficial as Tai Chi, depending on the type of yoga you choose. Power yoga can be good for exercise and balance but might not be the best for relaxation. I often find that I enjoy beginner or slower paced classes better. Teachers that allow you to find your breath and not move too fast through the movements are priceless. They know how to challenge you without injuring you or pushing you too far outside your comfort zone.
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