The Art of Balance – Cross Training for Fitness & Life
Do you play favorites when it comes to exercise? You stop by the gym a couple of days a week, maybe jog on the treadmill to train for that 5K run, then work out to keep your abs and biceps in good shape – but being able to run a race and looking lean and mean won’t pay off down the road if your other muscles are weak from underuse and you’re stiff and uncoordinated.
Think beyond observable results, advises Michael Hewitt, Ph.D., Canyon Ranch Research Director for Exercise Science. “Because body composition is the visible part of ‘fit,’ it often gets the highest priority, but every component is important.”
Throughout life, and especially as you age, selective exercising may come back to bite you, as day-to-day tasks become increasingly difficult. For instance, neglecting flexibility and range of motion may result in frustrating struggles when you want to climb a ladder or pull up that hard-to-reach back zipper.
Keeping fit is vital to staying independent and active, Michael says, “But good balance may be the most important component of fitness in older adults.” A well-balanced exercise program should focus on all of the following:
» Cardiorespiratory (aerobic) exercise
» Muscular strength & endurance
» Body composition
» Balance & agility
No matter what your age, better balance enhances enjoyment of many activities, from dancing and hiking to boating, or even walking to the back of a moving airplane.
It’s easy to add balance activities to your daily routine. Try standing on one leg while brushing your teeth or waiting in the checkout line. For a balance beam you can’t fall off, walk a grout line on a tiled floor, or the stripes in a carpeted hallway. Kick a small stone or pinecone as you hike – it’s a fun way to maintain balance, and gives you a great excuse to act like a kid again!
For a greater challenge, try tying your shoes while standing on one foot. If your balance is uncertain, exercises in the pool reduce the risk of injury from falling. Try walking backward in the shallow end, or even skipping.
Regular exercise allows you to enjoy a balanced, active life. Fitness and stability are requirements, not electives, says Michael. “Failing to frequently use your current physical capabilities is guaranteed to result in a gradual loss of those skills.”
If hitting the gym daily doesn’t appeal, explore new possibilities for exercising your whole body and staying in balance. Paddle a kayak or bike a beautiful trail. If you’re visiting Canyon Ranch in Tucson, enjoy the exhilaration of tackling the 36-foot climbing wall, or challenge your mental and physical balance on the newly built High Ropes Challenge Course, long a favorite in Lenox.
“Real” activities offer significant balance bonus, says Michael. Riding a real bicycle or hiking requires a balance element that the stationary bike and treadmill do not – and it’s always fun to get outside and play!