Balancing Act

I read the CDC web page on what kind of exercises are best for those over the age of 65. It mentioned that the one leg balance should be part of the routine.

I also read the article about what it means if you flunk the one leg balance test. If you can’t balance for 10 seconds, it means there’s a chance your mortality might be significantly higher. According to the recent study about it, it doesn’t prove cause and effect, but it’s a marker about our overall health we should pay attention to.

I exercise most days and I was reasonably confident I could ace the one leg balance test.

Much to my surprise, I was pretty unsteady and even after several tries, I often came close to falling over. I was a little embarrassed and wondered if I had one foot in the grave. Sena tried and fell over.

But then I searched the web and found a number of articles suggesting that having trouble with the one leg balance task might be due to weak ankles.

In fact, my ankles wobble quite a bit when I try to balance on one leg. My wobble is worse on my left ankle. That can happen, according to one writer. Just like you can be right-handed and clumsy with your left and vice versa, that can happen with your legs.

There are all sorts of web articles with advice on helping you strengthen feet and ankles. I saw one on a site called Eldergym in which the author made a suggestion that rang a bell. Try sticking a post it note on the wall in front of you and focus your gaze on it while standing on one leg.

And that reminded me of a Judo class I took when I was a boy. Warm-up exercises included balancing on one leg while grabbing your other foot and rolling it around to work some flexibility into your ankle. Many of us in the class fell over a lot while trying to do this. That improved after the instructor told us to fix our gaze on a single point while balancing. It magically got a lot easier to do.

I can still put on a sock while balancing on one leg, just by focusing on one spot on the floor. I didn’t think I would find anything on the web about that, but there is a web page about it. The language gets a little technical about the explanation on how this trick works, but it has a lot to do with things like the vestibulo-ocular reflex.

I notice I can stand on one leg a little longer when I stare fixedly at a clock’s sweep second hand. But I still wobble. I guess I’ll be adding the one leg balance to my exercise regimen.

I think the argument that the inability to stand on one leg can mean more than one problem might be causing it. It’s associated with a number of issues including brain, heart, and other systemic diseases, and even higher mortality. But it can also mean that you have weak ankles from making a habit of sitting at a desk writing blog posts over a long period of time.

Maybe that gives us a more balanced view of the one leg balancing act.

This video plays pretty well with Sly and the Family Stone song “Stand!”

Author: James Amos

I'm a retired consult-liaison psychiatrist. I navigated the path in a phased retirement program through the hospital where I was employed. I was fully retired as of June 30, 2020. This blog chronicles my journey.

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