Memory Spring Monthly

Work on Your Balance to Improve Your Memory

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Balance by Rosmarie Voegtli

Balance is a vital skill and a core component of everyday life. Merriam-Webster defines it as your ability to move or to remain in a position without losing control or falling. Some of us have excellent balance, while some of us struggle with it. But did you know that working on your balance can improve brain function and memory?
In fact, those with the best balance are three times less likely to develop dementia, according to a University of Washington study. Another study showed that when balance training was incorporated into the exercise programs of elderly women with complaints of memory problems and confusion, their cognitive function improved significantly.
Dave Heidloff, a trainer with Athletico, explains that the research suggests that challenging the areas of our brain responsible for balance can actually have benefits on the brain as a whole. According to Dr. Michael Trayford, assessing and treating impaired balance is currently seen as the “Holy Grail” for higher level thinking by many experts in the brain world! 
To effectively balance, our brain must correlate sensory information from three areas of the body: 1. Our eyes (called the visual system); 2. Muscles, tendons, and joints (proprioceptive input); and 3. The balance organs in the inner ear (vestibular system).  As we age, our performance in these areas tends to decline. In addition, we experience changes in strength. As a result, our balance as a whole tends to decline. 
To combat the decline we can make an effort to practice and improve our balance. Here are six exercises that you can implement to help you improve your balance. 
Standing on One Foot
Improve your balance by standing on one foot.
1. Stand behind a sturdy chair, holding on for balance, and raise your left foot.
2. Hold position for up to 10 seconds.
3. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
4. Repeat 10 to 15 times with your right leg.
5. Do a second set with each leg.
According to NIH Senior health, you can modify this exercise as you get stronger. Start by holding on to a sturdy chair for support. To challenge yourself, try holding on to the chair with only one hand; then with time, you can try holding on with only one finger, then no hands. If you are steady on your feet, try doing the exercise with your eyes closed.
Heel-to-Toe Walk 
The National Institute on Aging suggests this well-known and simple exercise to improve your balance.
1. Position the heel of one foot just in front of the toes of the other foot. Your heel and toes should touch or almost touch.
2. Choose a spot ahead of you and focus on it to keep you steady as you walk.
3. Take a step. Put your heel just in front of the toe of your other foot.
4. Repeat for 20 steps.
TIP: If you are unsteady on your feet, try doing this exercise near a wall so you can steady yourself if you need to. 
Leg Lift and Bicep Curl with Dumbell
The Mayo Clinic suggests trying balance exercises with weights. Try lifting your leg and biceps curls with a dumbbell:
1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your weight equally-distributed on both legs. Hold the dumbbell in your left hand with your palm facing upward. Keeping your elbow close to your body, raise the dumbell towards your left shoulder. At the same time, lift your right leg off the floor and bend it back at the knee.
2. Hold the position as long as you can maintain good form, up to 30 seconds.
3. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. As your balance improves, increase the number of repetitions.
4. For added challenge, balance on the same leg as the weight or while standing on a pillow or other unstable surface.
One-Legged Clock With Arms
One-Legged Clock with Arms is a great exercise that you can do by yourself or involve a friend.
1 .Balance on one leg, torso straight, head up, and hands on the hips.
2. Visualize a clock and point your arm straight overhead to 12, then to the side (three o'clock), and then circle low and around to nine without losing your balance.
3. Increase the challenge by having a partner call out the different times to you. Switch to the opposite arm and leg and repeat.
Stork Swim
Recommended by Joel Harper, personal trainer and owner of Joel Harper Fitness in New York. The Stork Swim "improves your balance because you continually shift your body weight and strengthen your stabilizing muscles," says Harper.
1. Balancing on your left foot, bend your right knee and raise it behind you to hip level.
2. Reach both hands (palms up) straight out in front of you.
3. Bend forward and extend your right leg straight behind you. As you become more comfortable with this move, work toward getting your torso parallel to the floor.
4. Hold for 10 seconds.
5. Return to starting position.
6. Do 25 reps.
7. Switch legs and repeat. Keep both arms straight out in front of you.
Use a Wobble Board
According to Cindy Killip, studioD, a wobble board is a great tool to work on your balance, functional strength, and mental focus. Wobble boards have a flat surface supported over a less-stable cylinder or ball. Balancing on the flat surface challenges your muscles and perception of movement and spatial orientation as your body and mind adapt to moving on the unstable support below. Wobble boards come in all different shapes, sizes, and price points.
Here are a few simple wobble board exercises from the Sports Injury Clinic: 
1. Whilst sitting down place the wobble board under the feet and slowly rotate it a number of times in each direction. This is good for improving ankle range of motion and control.
2. Stand on the wobble board, feet shoulder-width apart. Hold on to a chair for support if needed and rock the board forwards and backwards, then side to side. Do this for two to three minutes.
3. Stand on the wobble board, feet shoulder-width apart. Rotate the wobble board around so that the edge of the board is in contact with the floor at all times. Again try this for two to three minutes.
4. Balance on the wobble board for as long as you can without the edges touching the floor. Aim for over two minutes without touching the floor.
If you’re looking to take your balance to the next level, try Yoga or Tai Chi. Both exercise systems offer many exercises and poses to enhance your balance, strength, and flexibility.
Take the time to work on your balance every day. You’ll improve your strength, confidence, and cognition. For more information on Balance and Brain Health email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call us at 530-297-6464.