When I give talks on positive ageing, I usually start by asking the audience what it is about us that gives our age away as we grow older. 
I get a range of replies, the usual ones being: going grey, wrinkles, nostril hair and our choice of clothes. 

And yet, as I generally point out, plenty of us are not choosing to go grey, and our outfits – particularly our casual wear – are often similar to those of our children and even our grandchildren. 

It’s not unusual now in any street in Britain to see family members of three generations all dressed in trainers, tracksuit bottoms and fleeces.

So, what is it that leads other people to perceive us as older men and women? I think the biggest factor is how we move. And that is determined very largely by how well we can balance.    

Balance is something we take for granted when we’re younger. We used to leap on a chair to change a lightbulb, hop over a garden wall, or jump out of the bath with no concerns about landing safely. 

Few of us feel that secure now. 

There are a number of reasons for this. 

One is that many of us slow down when we stop working full time. We sit around more. We walk less. And we stop balancing on one leg while we put our shoes on – preferring instead to sit while we do it. 

As a result, gradually, we begin to feel less steady on our feet and therefore reach for the handrail when walking up or down stairs, instead of taking our own weight. 

In other words, we deteriorate physically because we are less active. And balance is part of that. 

Also, it’s common at this stage of life to pile on a few pounds which leads to us having bodies that are heavier to carry around. 

This might not matter too much were it not for the fact that at the same time as our torsos are getting bigger, our legs are often becoming weaker because we don’t use them so much. All this makes balancing more difficult. 

At this point, I should say that you might have balance issues to do with medication, a head injury, vertigo or an infection in the inner ear. 

That is different from reasons relating to general ageing, and hopefully you are being treated for your condition. 

But for most of us, our inability to balance well is age-related. However, the good news is that this can be reversed to some extent, and we can grow stronger again and re-learn our balancing skills. 

How? The easiest way is by strengthening the muscles in what nowadays is called ‘the core’ – these are mostly found in the diaphragm area, abdomen, pelvic floor and buttocks.  

Exercise classes such as ballet, yoga, Pilates, body balance and tai chi are all good for strengthening the core and improving balance, and I would recommend them. But if you’re not up for any of those, you can build core strength another way.

In my talks, I often experiment with my audience to see who can still balance comfortably on one leg. 

Usually, a sizeable number of people in the room are unable to do so. This is alarming, and I want to tell you why, and encourage you to remedy it. 

A 2022 study involving more than 1,700 mid-life individuals, published in the British Journal of Sports medicine, reported that an inability to balance on one leg – with the other leg pressed against it, while staring ahead for 10 seconds – was associated with a significant increase in the risk of death from any cause.  

So, I strongly urge you to find time, on a regular basis, to stand on one leg for as long as you can, and then on the other. This will engage and strengthen your core muscles. Aim for 10 seconds on each leg. 

To begin with, make sure you have a chair to fall into, or a worktop or rail to grab, if you’re unsteady. Please don’t be dispirited if you find this task impossible at first. Just keep at it, when you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, or you’re cleaning your teeth, or any time when you’re waiting around.

If you persevere, you will achieve your goal. And then you can keep practising so you can balance for longer. 

And if you get good at that, try balancing on each leg in turn with your eyes closed. This, to be honest, is extremely hard. But give it a go.  

Regaining a better sense of balance could be one of the most important tasks you ever set yourself. 

Not only will you look poised and stable, you’ll move like a younger person and you’ll have a good chance of living longer as well.