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Simple exercises to improve balance

Work core muscles with no-impact moves.

May 02, 2011

Improving your balance can be as easy as mastering the art of standing on one leg. That's a good exercise to start with, says exercise physiologist Michael Bracko.

• Stand facing a wall and place both hands on the wall to balance. Lift one leg, hold for five counts, then lower the leg. Lift the other leg, hold for five counts, and lower. The standing knee should be slightly bent. Repeat three times on each leg.

• For a slightly more difficult exercise, hold on to the wall with the left hand, and raise the left foot, balancing on the right leg, holding for five counts. Repeat on the opposite side, raising both legs three times. Ramp it up more by facing the wall but not touching it, and balance on each leg as before.

Personal trainer Sabrena Merrill says simple lunges and squats are great for building leg and core muscles — and also for balance. "When you do a forward lunge," she says, "you're training in a very enhanced fashion all the muscles required for walking."

• To do a lunge, step forward with one leg and bend the knee at 90 degrees, making sure the knee does not go in front of the foot. The body's weight should be centered and the heel of the back leg lifted. Push off the forward leg to return to a standing position, and repeat with the opposite leg.

• For a squat, stand with feet about hip-width apart and bend at the knees and the hips, pushing the backside out but keeping the head and neck aligned. To do a full squat, stop when the knees are at 90 degrees; a half-squat is between that and a standing position. Make sure the back is straight and aligned with the neck and head, and that the waist is not bent. Arms are forward.

"This is a challenging exercise because you're putting your body weight on the back half of your foot," Merrill says. "For many people, it feels like they're falling backward." Doing the exercise with a trainer or spotter can offer support.

— Jeannine Stein

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