8 Balance Boosters for MSby Lambeth Hochwald Health Writer
You lift weights to build strength. You run/walk/swim/sweat-in-general to build stamina. But how much do you exercise to improve your balance? “Remember that balance exercises are part of the strength and flexibility moves you need when you have MS,” says personal trainer Carol Michaels, founder of Recovery Fitness in West Orange, NJ. “They’ll help you regain function and mobility, decreasing the likelihood of falling.”
What's also really nice about balance work? You don't need any equipment, and you can do them anywhere. Try these eight moves as a complete workout or incorporate them into your regular routine.
If you're a regular gym junkie, go ahead and get your balance on. If it’s been a minute since you last worked out, consider first meeting with a physical therapist who specializes in neurological conditions. “This way you’ll have an exercise program that’s customized to your needs,” says Michael Hildebrand, D.P.T., a physical therapist in Monroe, LA, who regularly works with people who have multiple sclerosis.
No matter who you are when you begin: Have a sturdy chair handy for support. “As you improve, you will be able to perform each exercise by holding the chair with only one finger, and eventually you won't need the chair at all,” Michaels says.
This move isn’t as easy as it looks (don’t be ashamed to grab that chair or counter)! What’s good about this one: You can pretty much do it anywhere you’re just standing/waiting around and have something to hold on to like a shopping cart at the store or the fence at your kid’s game.
How to: Stand on one foot with your knee slightly bent. Hold for 10 seconds and switch legs. Start with three reps on each side and build to five.
Ok, you’re not getting on a real tightrope, you’ll just pretend you are. And lucky for you, you’ll still get plenty of leg- and core-strength benefits, while working on your posture, too.
How to: Put one heel in front of the toe of the other foot. Walk a narrow path putting one foot right in front of the other. Keep your head up and look straight ahead. Start with 1 set of 10 steps daily, adding on as you feel ready. For more of a challenge, hold your arms out to your sides so they’re parallel to the floor.
You don’t need a line dance to bust out this coordination-booster! You’ll work your legs, glutes, and core, and you’ll sharpen your ability to sidestep obstacles and change direction without tripping.
How to: Step out to the side with your right foot. Cross your left foot over your right, then step out with your right again. Repeat in the opposite direction. For a different challenge, cross your leg behind instead. Start with two sets of 10 reps on each leg daily.
You know what this one’s about: core, core, core! But flatter abs aren’t exactly the point. You need a strong trunk to help you sit, stand, bend over, and more.
How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Inhale and fill your belly with air. Exhale while contracting your abdominals, bringing your head, shoulders, and upper back off the floor. Hold for a few seconds, then lower and repeat. Start with two sets of 10 reps daily.
This exercise helps improve your balance without actually requiring any to do it! You’ll strengthen your hips and glutes.
How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor a few inches from your butt. Squeeze your glutes to lift your pelvis and lower back off the ground. (Your body should be in a straight line from shoulders to knees.) Hold for a few seconds, then lower and repeat. Start with two sets of 10 reps.
These simple lifts build up your calves, which stabilize your knees and ankles, giving you more stability when you walk, run, or jump.
How to: Stand with your feet about hip-distance apart. Raise your heels up so you are on your tiptoes, hold for a few seconds, then lower back down. Start with two sets of 10 reps daily.
Not only do lunges work your entire lower body including your core, they’re excellent balance-builders because you have to focus on one side of your body at time.
How to: Stand with your arms at your sides. Take a big step forward with your right leg and bend your knee until your thigh is parallel with the floor (or as far as you can go). Your left knee will drop toward the floor. (Be sure your front knee does not extend beyond your toes.) Press back up to start. Begin with two sets of 10 reps on each leg daily.
Great balance requires a strong core. And this little movement helps strengthen the muscles from your hips to your rib cage. Bonus: You can do it lying down.
How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Inhale and fill your belly with air. Exhale while pulling your abdominals in (imagine pulling your belly button toward your spine) and tilting your hips up. Your lower back should be pressed against the floor. Start with two sets of 10 reps.