Fit Minute: Finding your balance with Mary Manning

Mary Manning demonstrates a tandem balance exercise at the Council on Aging. Photo by Ryan Vermette

We balance many things in our lives. Work, social lives, and spending time with family are just a few. But, something that we often don’t think about is practicing actual physical balance with our bodies. Balance is key, not just in our lives, but for our bodies as well, and Mary Manning, who teaches the balance and mobility class at the Council on Aging, demonstrated a few ways that you can focus on balance for this Fit Minute. 

“We do a lot of work on stretching and mobility of knees and ankles,” Manning said about the class.

She said that the exercise she demonstrated helps with both of those components. 

Manning said that those doing the exercise should start by placing a chair in front of them, holding on to the back. If you are taller, Manning said, then a second chair stacked on top or a higher surface should be used. 

“We’re going to make sure we’re lined up,” she said. “Our feet belong under our knees, which belong under our hips, which belong under our shoulders. So get yourself lined up.”

When setting up, she said to avoid keeping your ankles too close together as it creates a smaller center of gravity and a greater chance of losing your balance. 

Then, Manning said to move your feet in a “tandem” pattern.

“Take one step forward with either foot. Just a half-step almost. That’s called semi-tandem, you’re halfway there,” she said. 

Then, she said to bring the other foot over in front of the first. She said to balance in that position for roughly a minute, holding on to the chair, before going back to semi-tandem and resetting to your initial position, repeating with the other foot. 

In the next step of the exercise, Manning said that you would go into semi-tandem and hold for five seconds, before crossing the other foot in front. After crossing the foot, she says that’s where you can make it more challenging for yourself.

“They can either, when they get to tandem, take one hand off, shut their eyes, or take two hands off,” she said. 

Shutting your eyes is a huge test for a person’s balance, but Manning says that if you can’t shut your eyes, focus on one item across the room. 

She then demonstrated a similar exercise that she recommends doing over a surface like a kitchen or bathroom counter, where you can focus on your reflection in a mirror. 

“You turn your left foot out, 90 degrees, bring it back. Now you turn it out and the right foot comes out around a little bit and follows, but you’re still looking in your eyes,” she said. 

Next, she says to take one hand off of the surface, extending it out and turning your waist as far as you can.

“Now, your head leaves your eyes and your head follows. It turns all the way out, and you’ll hold it. Now, it’s a balance and a stretch,” she said.

She said that both exercises engage the core and work on stretching and strengthening the ankles, knees, and arms. She said they can be extremely helpful for anyone who may have arthritis or is looking to maintain and keep their balance and mobility as they get older.