Need More Balance In Your Life? Stand Tall!

By “balance,” I mean the kind of balance that protects you from falls. People who aren’t part of the cancer survivor support community may think that “loss of balance” is an older person’s problem. But people of all ages who have received chemotherapy may experience neuropathy in their feet, leaving them unsteady and at risk for falls. In addition, neuropathy may lead to poor posture, which in turn may exacerbate neck pain, leg pain, headaches, and other chronic physical symptoms.

If you are feeling unsteady, experts suggest several options for improving your balance and reducing your risk of falls. One of the best exercises is to practice standing on one leg. But before you lift one leg off the floor, you want to start by standing tall, paying attention to your posture. So, do you know what good posture feels like?

Posture expert Janice Novak, M.S., suggests a 1-minute exercise to align yourself and experience better posture. Take a minute to follow Novak’s 5-step instructions for yourself.

1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Your knees should be soft and neutral, not locked.

2. Pull in your abdominal muscles as if you’re zipping up a tight pair of pants. Think of pulling your belly button toward your back. Squeeze your buttocks together. Don’t hold your breath.

3. Lift the front of your rib cage as if there were a string connected from your breastbone to the ceiling, pulling you up.

(Now comes the instruction that always brings the Aha! moment.)

4. Unround your shoulders by rotating your arms until your palms are facing forward and your thumbs are pointing out, as if you were hitchhiking. Then pull your shoulders down and press your shoulder blades into your spine. Hold your shoulders in this open, wide position. Notice how this posture allows your chest to expand, giving your lungs more room, enabling you to breathe more deeply.

5. Gently stretch the top of your head toward the ceiling, as if a string were pulling you upward.

Try to increase the amount of time you can stand on each leg, practicing each day. If you want to challenge yourself further, try to lift your leg higher, or lift your leg to the side, or standing on one leg with your eyes closed.

Nancy L Howe

I was a daily exerciser and I ate my fruits and vegetables, but in 1997, I was diagnosed with cancer anyway. I experienced first-hand the benefits of physical activity during treatment and beyond. That was my "Aha!" moment. I left my corporate career, earned my masters at Arizona State University studying exercise science, and joined the staff of University of Arizona cancer researchers in 2005. In 2013, I earned my Cancer Exercise Specialist certification from the University of Northern Colorado, Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute, and founded Strong Cancer Recovery. In 2017, I joined the Arizona State University Cancer Prevention and Integrative Medicine research team, and entered the PhD program at ASU's College of Nursing and Health Innovation. My research focus is breast-cancer-related lymphedema, including the preventive and ameliorative benefits of physical activity.