Live Longer with Balance

What would you say if someone told you that you could live longer by doing something simple for two minutes a day? There’s a new study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine that indicates that we can live longer if we can balance on one foot for at least 10 seconds. Live longer with balance. Seems like a no-brainer.

Years balancing

I balance on one foot every day.
I balance on one foot every day.

I’ve written for years about balance. My interview with Kathleen Cameron, Senior Director of the Center for Healthy Aging, part of the National Council on Aging (, about balance, falls, and health as we age was back in 2017. I learned about the importance of balance after a fall which injured my knees and triggered hip bursitis a few years ago. Balance in everyone deteriorates after 50, but as I’ve discovered, we can actually improve our balance. Most people don’t know that their balance gets worse over time until it’s too late, and they suffer a fall. 

Longevity correlates to fitness level

According to the study, “the inability to balance on one foot is associated with an 84 percent higher risk of death over the next seven years.” The study indicates that those able to balance had less history of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity. The study also contends that people who are able to balance on one foot for 10 seconds are stronger and more fit. Also, people who can balance might be more agile and move more than people who can’t balance. 

Dr. Lakshpaul Chauhan, geriatric medicine physician at Aurora Sinai Medical Center, says that lack of physical activity can be linked to weakness and frailty. Dr Chauhan encourages seniors to take action now.

Healthy aging upward spiral

Instead of a downward spiral, the ability to balance may lead to an upward spiral: you can balance on one foot, so you want to test yourself and balance more. 

This leads to wanting to go for walks with the dog or a partner. You can balance longer, so what else can you do?

Those walks may inspire you to do more for your fitness like learning to dance. 

You’re feeling stronger so you pick up that set of weights that you saw on sale. 

You have more energy from all that exercise so you get the ingredients to cook that meal that looked so good in the magazine you looked at. 

And before you know it, you may have lost a couple of pounds, you’re sleeping better and are feeling great.

All of which leads to a longer, healthier life. Healthy aging knows no bounds.

Don’t compare yourself to others

If you follow fitness “gurus” on social media, you’ll likely see the phrases, “Go for the burn,” or “Give it your all,” or “Don’t save anything.” And you’ll probably see people on videos doing running so much faster than you can, or doing insane things with their bodies. Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone is at a different point in their fitness journey. No one else’s body is like yours. You have different experiences than everyone else. 

It’s normal to compare ourselves to our peers. Psychologists call it “social comparison theory.” It’s an attempt to understand ourselves and our place in society. Juliana Breines Ph.D. says that social comparisons can be helpful when “we remember that even the most successful people struggle in some ways and are just as human and fallible as we are—and that, for all our foibles and shortcomings, we are just as capable of greatness.”

But it’s easy to fall into the trap of coming down hard on ourselves when we compare ourselves to others. “I’m not as good.” Or, “I’ll never be able to do that.”

Be reasonable

On the treadmill, I run for me and do not compare myself to others.
On the treadmill

I used to see videos of people running, sweating buckets, going faster than I thought any human had a right to go just to exercise. I thought, “They’re crazy. Running is for the birds.” Years ago I could never see myself running for exercise. And then I took up agility with my dogs. In order to succeed, most handlers need to be fit and able to run. Now, no person can run as fast as most dogs can run, but an agility handler has to be in the proper position to give their dog direction. In class, I was out of breath in no time. So I thought that I should put the treadmill in the basement to use and work on my stamina. I began to use the treadmill for 20 minutes twice a week. At first I couldn’t run for longer than 15 seconds at a time at a very low speed, walking between running intervals. I had to motivate myself to run because it was hard at first and I had no really good reason to do it otherwise.

But I persisted and built up the time and speed. I still can’t run for more than a minute at a time, but that’s OK. An agility run is usually less than a minute. And now my speed is over 7 miles an hour at my fastest. I’m not where I need to be yet, but that’s OK. I know that running on an agility course is much different than on a treadmill, but it’s a start.

It doesn’t matter how fast the other person is going

It doesn’t matter how fast that instructor is running. You’re you. You may be older than that person. And you may need to work on your endurance. Your body should get used to the movements before you intensify them. If you’re just starting, it would be a very bad idea to go all out at first. You’d end up injuring yourself and unable to do it again in a couple of days. If you’re serious about that goal, like I am about running, consistency is key. You don’t want to start over again next week.

The point is, be kind to yourself. Start at a reasonable level for you. And challenge yourself. In your quest for healthy aging, have a goal. Push yourself – not crazily, but enough that you’re able to see consistent improvements. Your goal should not be easy to achieve, but it should be achievable.

I do different things with my exercise routines. I try different yoga poses. Sometimes I fall on my face (but I practice on a nice thick mat). I try to achieve that Side Plank Star periodically, just to see if I still can. All part of my quest for healthy aging. You may think that’s weird. And that’s OK.

Your goal is yours

Your goal should not be mine. Running fast shouldn’t be your goal. (Unless, of course, you really want to run fast.) But it’s mine. Don’t compare yourself to others. If you want to be able to do five push-ups and you feel embarrassed that you can’t even do one, don’t be. You’re you. Your arms and shoulders are put on differently than the person whose video you saw online who could crank out fifteen and not break a sweat. Your core may not be as strong. But you can work at it and, if you’re persistent, and that’s what you really want, you’ll do it. You’ll modify moves at first and persist. Don’t compare yourself to others. Because everyone is different.

Be active without back pain

We all strive for healthy aging, and that includes a healthy back. But so many of us are plagued with back pain as we get older. At the grocery store I see people who I think are about my age hunched over their cart and taking very slow steps, possibly because they’re in so much pain. And I see heartbreaking posts from friends on social media who are forced to cancel fun plans because of their back pain. For me, back pain comes and goes – and fortunately it’s mostly gone these days. So, how can we be active without back pain?

Bend the right way

We all know to not use our backs when we lift heavy objects. Bend your knees, squat and pick it up. Use the strength in your thighs, not your back. Keep your back straight when you lift. And when something is absolutely too heavy to lift, ask for help. I know that’s hard…

Suck it in!

Healthy aging involves a strong core. And that helps you to Be active without back pain.
The side plank – yet another plank variation – helps you get a strong core so you can be active without back pain.

I’ve been saying to tighten your core quite a bit these days. But, it’s the safest way to carry something. And when you’re straightening up from a squat or a crouch, suck it in. It really helps. Having a strong core leads to a strong back! I’ve been making an effort to focus more on my core for the last couple of years and have (knock on wood!) experienced hardly any back pain lately. I used to be the poster child for having a heating pad on my lower back. And that would be real torture this summer with the heat and humidity we’ve had. My hip bursitis would combine with sciatica in years past and it was so painful that I could hardly move. 

Equalize the load

If you carry a heavy shoulder bag, you could be contributing to your back pain. Switch sides every once in a while, or use a backpack. (I’ve tried to carry my bag on my right shoulder but it just feels wrong.)

Healthy mind leads to a healthy back

The experts at Advocate Aurora Health say that a healthy mind also leads to a healthy back. When people with an optimistic outlook get back pain, they tend to feel better sooner. “A positive mental attitude can help in handling back pain so that you bounce back fast and don’t let it turn into a chronic condition. Meditation can reduce stress and muscle tightness.” While it may not seem possible to achieve a positive outlook when you have back pain, there are things you can do to become more optimistic. And even a short guided meditation (like the “Garden Walk Guided Meditation” that you can download) will help reduce stress.

A healthy back for healthy aging

Living life pain-free is certainly the goal for those of us over 50. And while most people under 50 probably don’t think of back pain, they should probably pay attention to ways to maintain a healthy back too. Just keep a few things in mind: suck it in, and be careful how you lift and carry things.

Lift weights at my age?

There are loads of fitness myths and misinformation out there. Things you read about that sound like they might be true. Like if you, as a woman over 50, lift heavy weights, you’ll still get bulky and misshapen like a bodybuilder, so it makes sense to lift lighter weights and do more repetitions.

The fact is that, no matter what age you are, if you’re a woman, lifting heavy weights will not bulk up your muscles. Kristen Turner, a health navigator with Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, says, “Women do not gain muscle mass the same way men do, nor will they “bulk up” through training with challenging heavier weights.” In fact, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone 65 and older include 2 days a week of weight training for their healthy aging. So, yes, I do lift weights at my age (and I’m 67)!

The truth about weightlifting

Yes, I do lift weights at my age! Here's a biceps curl.
Biceps curl with a lunge!

Your strength workout doesn’t have to take forever. In fact, Turner suggests just 8-12 repetitions, 8-10 exercises, that focus on all major muscle groups. The weights you use should be challenging, but not impossible. They shouldn’t be too light, either. Your twice-a-week strength workout will give you improved tone, strength and will help in weight management. The more muscle you have, the more calories and fat you will burn, giving you an overall toned physique. And I’ve found that with strength training comes more stamina. Gravity is evil, but we’re all subject to it. Our strong muscles will help carry us wherever we want to go.

Do I need free weights

You can get a great strength workout using just your own body weight. The plank pose, and all of its variations, will work virtually every muscle in your body. And all you need is the floor. As I mentioned in a previous article, if you can’t do the full plank at first, there’s always a modification. The plank pose works your arms, your shoulders, your core, and your legs.

If you want to go the free weight route at home, like I do, I did a little searching online for prices. These days you can get a pair of 3-, 5- and 8-pound weights and a stand for them for less than $100. These are certainly heavy enough for you to get started, and probably for quite a while after that.

What I do

I work out 4 – 5 days a week. 2 days I run / walk for 20 minutes on the treadmill and do 10 minutes of core work after the run. 1 day a week I do a Pilates routine (30 minutes) with a resistance band, which makes it more challenging. And 2 days a week I do combined aerobics and free weights, 30 – 40 minutes. Yes, I do lift weights at my age!

Get strong for your healthy aging

Don’t be scared of strength training. Lift weights – or at least heavy tomato cans – for your healthy aging.