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Should we all be standing on one leg?

I was listening to one of the series of BBC podcasts from Dr Michael Moseley about one thing you can do to change your life. This one was advocating practising standing on one leg to improve balance. That’s easy, I thought. I’ve done plenty of pilates in the past – I can stand on one leg for ages.

Well, that past must have been further away than I thought. While the right leg lasted for a while, I couldn’t manage standing just on my left leg for more than a few seconds before wobbling over.

What had happened? Lack of practice for one thing. Like some many things, if you don’t keep doing it, you lose it. Bouts of ill health, such as sciatica, haven’t helped.

But why does this matter?

Healthcare practitioners are predicting a rise in falls following months of inactivity during the pandemic. Unable to get to classes and the gym, many normally active people have done less. And those who don’t generally do organised exercise have found it harder to get motivated to get off the sofa and get moving. Even the lovely Joe Wicks hasn’t reached us all (although he is now delivering workouts for seniors as I type).

Less exercise means less opportunity to strengthen our cores, which give us the ability to balance. And a poorer sense of balance leads to more falls. Not just the ‘having a fall’ that’s almost expected of the older generation, but also amongst their children.

It is a more difficult issue for older people, though, because older bones break more easily, leading to more hospital stays and longer recovery.

Lockdown for many of us has also meant more eating and less exercise, and weight gain as a result. That means when we fall, we fall more heavily.

So how long should we be able to make like a flamingo? There are various views on this, but one piece of research suggests that on average a female aged 50-59 can manage 8 seconds with eyes open, and 5 seconds with eyes closed. A man of a similar age can maintain balance for 8.8 seconds with eyes open, and 4.5 seconds with eyes closed.

Looking at the numbers for the 80-99 age group, and one-legged standing time for women and men with eyes open has fallen to just over a second, and less than that with eyes closed.

What can do to regain our balance?

Ageing specialist Dawn Skelton says she practises the one-legged look while cleaning her teeth.

And as we’re already following the recommendation to do a few squats while waiting for the kettle to boil to improve strength, it seems there are endless opportunities to take health-driven exercise without leaving the house. Searching online will turn up plenty of ideas for balance exercises.

Or if you’d like to combine balancing with socialising, you could try out local groups practising yoga, pilates and tai chi. This last is proving particularly popular with the older generation and often takes place in parks and open spaces, so an enjoyable all-round experience.


Blogger Kathy Lawrence is editor of When They Get Older.

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