When you try to do two things at once — say, read an email and make breakfast — one of your tasks will likely suffer (burnt toast, anyone?).
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But while most multitasking doesn't improve your life, there's always an exception. Case in point: brushing your teeth while standing on one leg. This simultaneous action boasts a boatload of benefits for healthy aging, such as better balance, a sharper brain and stronger bones.
Ready to brush and balance on one leg for a longer, healthier life? Here's how to do it:
Every time you brush your teeth (ideally twice a day for optimal dental health), shift your weight to one side and stand on a single leg. That's it.
Just make sure to practice equally on both legs. So, for example, when you brush in the morning, balance on your right side. Then in the evening, balance on your left side.
"Our bodies tend to be stronger or weaker on one side, especially as we age," so staying equally balanced is particularly important, says Rosalind Frydberg, group fitness instructor and active aging specialist at Life Time ARORA.
Now that you know how to do it, read on to learn all the amazing reasons why you should brush while balancing on one leg.
1. It Builds Single-Leg Balance and Stability
"We need to be able to be off-balance to balance," Frydberg says. In other words, we must challenge our balance to improve it. And standing on one leg while you brush your teeth — which takes a ton of balance — is a great way to do this.
That's because balancing on one leg helps to work your stabilizing muscles — such as your adductors (inner thigh muscles) and abductors (outer thigh muscles) — Frydberg says, which keep you steady on your feet.
"Think of a cruise ship without stabilizers: It would be tough to remain balanced when the waters get rough," Frydberg says.
You get bonus balance benefits if you do this single-leg drill shoeless. "Doing this barefoot also helps work the tiny muscles in our feet and strengthen our ankles," she adds. These muscles are also crucial for healthy balance.
And while you may not realize it, your ability to perform many daily activities — like stepping over a large puddle, climbing down a ladder or scaling steps — requires single-leg balance and stability, Frydberg says.
Though these things are important at every age, balance and stability become even more vital as you get older, since they can help you stay independent into older age.
2. It Can Help Prevent Falls
Unfortunately, falls become more frequent as we age. A quarter of older Americans fall every year, and a fifth of those falls results in a serious injury, such as broken bones or head trauma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But there's good news: The better your balance, the lesser your chances of falling. Practicing single-leg balance "can help prevent falls as you can react quickly and stabilize yourself using your adductors and abductors," Frydberg says.
3. It’s Good for Your Brain
Standing on one leg while brushing your teeth requires a lot of coordination. And that means a workout for your brain.
"Before I tried this I thought, how simple," Frydberg says. But she quickly realized the activity was more challenging than she'd anticipated. "I had to think about it and process how best to effectively execute this," she says.
And this mental work is a major plus for your mind. Learning a new movement — which is like exercise for the brain and neuron pathways — helps promote neural plasticity (i.e., your brain's ability to change and adapt in response to your behavior), Frydberg says.
And the more you challenge your brain, the longer it'll continue to function optimally, according to the University of Utah.
For an even bigger brain challenge, try brushing your teeth with your less dominant hand while balancing on a single leg, Frydberg says.
4. It Fortifies Your Bones
Balance training can even improve bone health. Prime example: "Your femur density can improve with focused balance movements such as this," Frydberg says.
That means unilateral exercises (like standing on one leg while brushing your teeth) may help protect against age-related bone issues like osteopenia (a loss of bone mineral density) and osteoporosis (a condition that causes your bones to become brittle and weak).
5. It Improves Your Posture
Standing on one leg can improve your posture and your "standing-at-ease pose," Frydberg says.
Think of it this way: To stay steady, you need to hold yourself upright and keep your core tight. In other words, the more you practice this straight posture, the less you'll slump.
And that's a superb strategy to help counteract the increased curvature of the spine that results from a stooped posture, which becomes more common with age. In fact, exercise is essential when it comes to maintaining a healthy posture (and musculoskeletal health overall) because it enhances bone and muscle function, according to the Medical University of South Carolina.
Feeling a Little Wobbly? Try These Modifications
If you're teetering while attempting this exercise, that's OK. It takes time and practice to build balance on one leg. "It took three days and brushing my teeth nine times to achieve an outcome I was happy with," Frydberg says.
But remember, safety always comes first. To avoid accidentally tripping (or choking on toothpaste), try these tips, courtesy of Frydberg:
- Start with one foot flat and the other just on the ball of foot. As you build balance, lift the foot off the floor entirely.
- Place your free hand on the sink. This will provide a little extra support.
- Practice in shorter spurts. Start balancing for a few seconds, and as you grow more comfortable, add more time.
- Always engage the core. This will help stabilize you.
- Look straight ahead. Looking down might throw off your balance.
- Keep a soft knee in the standing leg. You don't want to lock the joint.