Want to improve your balance? These 5 tips can help.

A man and a woman walking along the top of a fence with their arms extended.
Maintaining balance is crucial as we age. (Getty Creative)

Balance: It’s not just for tightrope walkers. As we age, different factors affect how well we're able to balance. The visual system (responsible for processing information from our eyes), somatosensory system (responsible for processing sensations from our body, such as touch and pressure) and vestibular system (responsible for maintaining balance and spatial orientation) all experience decline, which can cause problems with stability. This decline happens even without conditions like Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis (MS), which can exacerbate balance issues even further.

It’s important to maintain balance throughout life, as aging puts people at risk for greater complications from falling. “Falls are a threat to the health of older adults and reduce their ability to remain independent,” Corey Kunzer, a physical therapist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., tells Yahoo Life. “Each year, more than 1 in 4 people over the age of 65 have a fall episode, with 1 in 5 causing serious injury. The good news is that balance training can be effective in reducing the overall risk of falls.”

But how exactly do you strengthen your balance? While there’s no way to completely avoid the decline in your body's ability to help maintain your balance and stability, there are certain things you can do that can help, according to experts. Here’s what you need to know.

Balance on one leg

Matthew Prusinski, senior physical therapist at Penn Medicine, tells Yahoo Life that balancing on one leg is an easy-to-do exercise that can help improve your balance. The reason this is effective is because it’s also practical, he notes. “Balancing on one leg translates to many activities we do on a daily basis, like putting our pants on, stepping over curbs and using the stairs,” he says. “When someone is unable to balance on one leg for at least five seconds, they are at an increased risk for falling.”

While standing near a support surface — such as a kitchen counter — hover your hands above that surface without touching it and attempt to balance on one leg without the leg in the air touching your stance leg, he explains. Try to hold this position for 30 seconds on each leg, doing three to four repetitions per side; do the exercise one to two times per week.

Walk backward

It may seem counterintuitive, but walking backward actually has benefits for balance, says Prusinski. That's because while we may not think about it, we “walk backward for at least a couple of steps fairly frequently, especially in grocery stores and busier environments,” he says. “If someone cannot safely and confidently maintain a functional speed while walking backward, it can indicate that they are at an increased risk for falling.”

Practicing walking backward four times down and back along an open path like a hallway, one to two times per week, can be enough to aid in maintaining balance, Prusinski says. Just make sure you have someone spotting you so you don’t trip.

Try tai chi

Kunzer recommends tai chi as a way to improve your balance. Tai chi is a type of Chinese martial arts, and it has long been associated with better balance. One reason for this is that tai chi causes you to change your center of gravity, as well as shift your weight from one leg to another.

While many community centers and exercise classes offer tai chi, one easy way to incorporate it into your life is by trying free tai chi videos on YouTube. SilverSneakers, a fitness and lifestyle program for adults 65 and older through Medicare Advantage, has a 13-minute tai chi routine designed specifically to help individuals practice their balance.

Try alternate-nostril breathing

Whether or not you’re a yogi, this yoga breathing technique may help improve your balance, yoga educator Louise Bartlett tells Yahoo Life. It’s called nadi shodhana, or alternate-nostril breathing. “This technique helps to balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain, calms the nervous system and improves focus, setting a good foundation for balance work,” Bartlett explains.

Want to try it out? Here’s how:

  • Sit comfortably with your spine straight and shoulders relaxed.

  • Place your left hand on your knee and your right hand in front of your face.

  • With your right hand, use your thumb to gently close your right nostril.

  • Inhale deeply through your left nostril.

  • Close your left nostril with your ring finger, then release your thumb and exhale through your right nostril.

  • Inhale through your right nostril, close it with your thumb, open your left nostril and exhale through the left nostril.

Sit…and then stand up

Kunzer recommends practicing sitting-to-standing regularly in order to practice balancing. Start by sitting on a sturdy chair with your feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart. Place your hands on the arms of the chair or on your thighs. Engage your core muscles and, with a controlled movement, shift your weight forward as you stand up, using your legs and not relying on your hands for support. Once standing, pause for a moment, ensuring you are stable, and then slowly lower yourself back into the seated position. Repeat this exercise 10 times.