We’ve all wobbled a bit during certain yoga poses or tripped over while walking, but good balance is important for good health, as well as carrying out daily tasks. See if you can pass the 10-second balance test to find out how good yours is.
“You might be surprised at how difficult you find it, especially if you sit down to work all day or are less active,” says Dr. Ann Nainan, Healthily expert. Try it today – no need to see a doctor – and find out in just a few minutes if your balance needs rebalancing!
Balance is key to almost everything we do when we move our bodies, from power walking to circuit training, lifting boxes or bending down to pick something up, or simply walking up the stairs. Good balance helps you get moving, stay active and keep fit.
But poor balance can indicate potential health issues, such as:
- Your hormones are changing
Did you know that poor balance is one of the symptoms of menopause? Even if you’re not experiencing hot flashes or insomnia, your balance could be getting worse as part of this hormonal shift. Some women may experience dizziness during PMS, while pregnancy can also cause balance problems; not only does your center of gravity change as you get larger, hormone changes in early pregnancy could lead to low blood pressure, which can trigger feelings of dizziness.
- Weak core strength
“Good balance shows your core muscles and fitness levels are good, while poor balance can indicate you need to work on these areas,” says Dr. Ann. “We now know that core strength training can improve flexibility and balance, so it should be included as part of any fitness routine.”
- Increased risk of falls - even in your 40s!
Research published in the journal Public Health Reports found the number of fatal falls in the US for those aged 45-64 increased by nearly 50% from 1999 to 2007. Shockingly, the World Health Organization now warns that, after car crashes, falls are the second biggest cause of accidental death worldwide, especially if you’re over 60. But good balance can help prevent falls.
- You need a health reset
Good balance can also predict a long and healthy life. A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) discovered that people who can’t stand on one leg for 10 seconds are almost twice as likely to die within 10 years than those who can. Although that sounds scary, the researchers say those who couldn’t do the ‘flamingo test’ were more likely to be older, overweight, and have diabetes. “If your balance is poor and you have weight to lose, or your health conditions aren’t well controlled, this could be a good prompt to talk to your doctor,” says Dr. Ann.
Who is the 10-second balance test for?
“Everyone,” says Dr. Ann. “Whether you want to get fitter, check your core strength, or make sure you’re not storing up future health problems, a regular balance test is a great addition to any self-care routine.”
Some people in particular may want to keep an eye on their balance. For example, if you:
- are female. Apart from hormonal issues, studies show men tend to have better balance than women. This may be because, in general, men have greater muscle density than women, which could improve their balance.
- are older. The older you are, the less stable you are as the balance structures in your ear start to decline. You also lose muscle strength and power as you age, which can have an impact on your ability to balance during simple tasks like getting out of bed.
- notice early signs of balance problems. Do you have trouble putting on your jeans while standing on one leg? Are you always bumping into things? Perhaps you often stumble when walking? These could be early signs of a neurological condition, like multiple sclerosis, and shouldn’t be ignored.
- track your steps on a smartphone or fitness device and it warns you of uneven gait or pace length. Firstly, check that your phone, watch, or other device is tracking your steps accurately. If it’s still showing an issue, make an appointment with your doctor to check for any of the health conditions below.
How to do a balance test at home
There’s no standard test that doctors or physiotherapists currently use to test your balance. But you can try the one-leg balance test that researchers used in the BJSM study.
- take off your shoes and socks (to give yourself better stability)
- stand up straight with both feet together, facing a wall
- lift up your right leg and place the front of your right foot onto the back of your left calf
- keep your arms by your side and stare straight ahead
- hold the pose for 10 seconds, then repeat on the left leg
- you’re allowed 3 attempts on either leg to complete the test
If you can easily hold the pose for 10 seconds, see how long you can go for.
How to read your balance test results
Depending on your age, you should be able to hold the one-leg balance for at least:
- under age 30: more than 45 seconds
- under 40: 45 seconds
- aged 40-49: 42 seconds
- aged 50-59: 41 seconds
- aged 60-69: 32 seconds
What if your results aren’t great?
You might be surprised at how difficult you find the test. “This is quite normal, as not many of us train our balance in the same way we train our muscles at the gym,” says Dr. Ann. Try the exercises below to help improve the length of time you can balance.
Poor balance can be a sign of some serious health conditions, so don’t ignore your score if you’re still struggling to balance even after taking steps to improve it.
How to improve balancing on one leg
Boosting your muscle strength and doing specific exercises can all help
. You could try:
- walking or cycling to strengthen the large muscles in your lower body, like your glutes
- activities that include a lot of one-leg balancing postures such as yoga or tai chi
- exercises that involve stretching – yoga, or Pilates – to relieve any tight muscles
- core exercises, such as the plank or dead bugs to improve your core muscles
- dance or step aerobics classes that intentionally throw you off balance
You can also try alternating standing on one leg while cleaning your teeth or doing the 10-second balance test on a pillow, which ups the instability and makes it more challenging.
“Some simple changes can make a big difference,” says Dr. Ann. “When it comes to your balance, it really is a case of use it or lose it.”
When to see a doctor about your balance
If you’re really wobbly - or feel like you’re going to fall over a lot of the time - you should make an appointment with your doctor or physio as soon as possible. Dr. Anne says, “They can check for possible causes that may be affecting your balance and send you for extra tests if necessary.”
If you’re not sure whether you need to see your doctor, try using our
to work out your best next step.
What health issues can cause balance problems?
Your brain interprets signals from your inner ear, information from your eyes, and feedback from sensors in your joints and muscles (known as proprioception) to keep you balanced.
Anything that affects these systems can cause a balance problem, for example:
- inner ear infections, like labyrinthitis, can make you feel dizzy.
- joint conditions like arthritis, which is more common in women, can interfere with your proprioception
- recovering in bed after an illness or injury means your brain isn’t receiving the same information from the sensors in your joints and muscles as it does when you’re moving about, so it takes a while to communicate effectively with your body again. Dr. Ann says, “It’s similar to if you used to know an area really well, like the streets around an old school or office, but haven’t been back for a while. It takes a little time to remember where everything is, but that information soon comes back. Well, your brain has to do the same with your body after an illness!”
- other health conditions that affect your balance, such as low blood pressure or vestibular (inner ear) migraines
See your doctor if you experience any of the following, or a combination of:
- dizziness or vertigo (when everything around you feels like it’s spinning)
- feeling or being sick
- tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- pins and needles, or feeling numb, in your body or limbs
- blurred vision or other problems that affect your sight
- feeling faint or lightheaded
- becoming unsteady on your feet
They can find out if you’re experiencing any of the health conditions described above. Very rarely, balance problems can be an early warning sign of multiple sclerosis - which is also more common in women - but vision problems tend to be one of the more common early symptoms. Ask your doctor for further checks if you’re worried.
If your balance issues come on quite suddenly, they could be a sign of a stroke or mini-stroke (called a transient ischemic attack). However, experts say you should experience other symptoms alongside them, including problems with your vision, speech, numbness in your limbs, or clumsiness. Call for medical help immediately if you have any of these symptoms.