Need to sit down to put on socks? That’s a common sign of what happens as we age—balance, coordination and agility fade. Fortunately, we can boost those skills with simple moves that fit into the fancy-sounding category of neuromotor exercise training. The point is to reduce the risk for falls and injury and enhance “functional fitness,” or the ability to go about our daily business. Update: Newest guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend doing 20 to 30 minutes of neuromotor exercise training two or three days per week, for a total of about 60 minutes weekly.

Tai chi and yoga are good examples—but you don’t need to take a class to become more functionally fit. “Lots of neuromotor exercises can be done at home. All it takes is a bit of creativity and some time,” said Barbara Bushman, PhD, a professor in the department of kinesiology at Missouri State University and editor of ACSM’s Complete Guide to Fitness & Health. Ideally, you’ll add neuromotor activities to your existing workout regimen without sacrificing cardio, resistance training or stretching time.

As with any new exercise routine, get your doctor’s OK first. Then try the activities below, starting with a minute or two per exercise and gradually increasing your time, Dr. Bushman recommended. Activities can be done in any order and spread throughout the day, if desired. If balance is a challenge, do the exercises while standing near a countertop or other sturdy object that you can grasp for support if necessary.

Box Step. On the floor, line up half a dozen empty boxes of varying sizes, positioning them about 12 to 15 inches apart, then practice stepping up and over them. As you improve: Increase the height and width of the boxes…step over the boxes sideways…or design your own more complex stepping pattern. If you’re a beginner: Skip the boxes and simply practice walking backward and shuffling from side to side.

Sock Stand. Barefoot, stand on your right foot. Bending your left knee, lift your left foot and put on a sock without sitting or using any other support…then, left foot still lifted, remove the sock. Repeat several times, trying not to touch your left foot to the ground, then switch legs. As you improve: Try putting on, tying and then removing a shoe as you stand on one leg. If you’re a beginner: Just practice standing on one leg for 20 to 30 seconds, then rest and repeat several times…then switch legs.

Chair Squat. Stand in front of a sturdy chair, facing outward, and hold your arms straight out in front of you. Slowly bend your knees and stick your rear end out, lowering yourself toward the chair as if about to sit. Allow your rear end to touch the chair seat only very lightly—without resting—then slowly rise to standing again. Repeat. This activity builds strength as well as balance.

Paper Towel Tube Pickup. Place the empty cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels on the floor about 12 inches in front of you. Stand on your right foot, lifting your left foot out behind you. Carefully lean forward, bending your right knee…reach down to pick up the roll…then stand up straight. Repeat several times without touching your left foot to the ground, then switch legs. As you improve: Use a smaller object, such as a pencil, instead of the paper towel tube. If you’re a beginner: Standing on your right foot, lift your left foot slightly. With the toes of the left foot, touch the floor in front of you…then touch the floor to your left side…then touch the floor behind you. Repeat several times, then switch legs.

Ball Toss. Sit or stand and toss a tennis ball repeatedly back and forth from one hand to the other. As you improve: Toss the ball higher…hold your hands farther apart…use a larger, heavier ball (such as a softball)…and/or stand on one leg while you toss. Try not to drop the ball!

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