Learning Your Right from Your Left

We’ve heard all the exercise excuses: I’m too tired. I have too much to do. The gym is too far. I can’t afford an exercise bike. It’s too hot out. It’s too cold out.

I’ve said all these myself from time to time, but this winter I ran out of excuses.

A local social services agency began offering Zoom aerobics classes on line in place of their regular in-person sessions.  But could I afford the cost? Er, yes. It’s free. Suddenly, there was absolutely no reason I couldn’t exercise – except wait! I didn’t know how to use Zoom. Unfortunately, a very helpful young woman from the social services agency was on hand to show me how you use Zoom, and it’s as simple as clicking a couple of links. Drat. Now there was absolutely no way to get out of two weekly sessions, 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

Specifically, the course was aimed at teaching people 65 and over better balance. I had shown my need for such instruction after having fallen on my stoop and broken my nose a few years back, and falling on the same step a year or so later and breaking a tooth implant. Our class was for people 65 and older, but you should strive for better balance no matter how young you are. I’ve learned from doing articles for thirdAGE that falling is one of the deadliest accidents you can have as you age. It reduces self-confidence, it hampers mobility and independence (after a fall, accident victims may be reluctant to go outside or travel between upstairs and downstairs).  In the most serious cases, such as falls that result in broken hips, victims may be seriously hampered enough that they need to go into a nursing home or assisted-living facility.

Have I scared you? I know I scared myself into signing up. So better balance was my goal, not burning calories or losing weight (though those are admirable, too).  To start off, our teacher had us practice weight shifting from one side to the other, keeping our toes crunched on both feet. The crunching gave us a little more control over our feet, enabling us to have better balance. Then we moved on to reaching up as far as we could on each side, while our toes and feet remained steady.


After that we did a “box step” dance: two steps to the right, two steps up, two steps to the left, two steps back. It was at this point I realized I could hardly tell my right side from my left. And no, I’m not dyslexic. When my teacher moved right, I moved left. She went forward, I went backward. Actually, I caught on to that pretty well; it was the right to the left and the left to the right that confused me. I don’t think I was the only one.

My favorite part of the session was working with 3-pound barbells. I could follow the various crunches very easily. I could do the right/left thing, no problem.

Unquestionably, the toughest part was the direct balance exercise. We put our right foot directly in front of our left foot and tried to stand without assistance from our chair (there if we needed it) At the beginning of the sessions, I could hardly stand for more than a second. I worked my way up to three and even four. We also did squats with the chair, working ourselves up to 30 seconds nonstop. This was where I saw the most improvement. I can now easily get out of a chair without relying on the arms.

I liked the course so much that I signed up for a second one. I anticipate getting stronger and more balance, especially with the direct balance exercises such as holding one foot in front of the other without trembling or relying on the chair too much.

And what of the lef/right thing? Well, as the cliché goes, practice makes perfect. For that, I may need a third course.

If you are thinking of taking a balance class, it’s essential to get the OK from your doctor. Some of the exercises could strain knees or hips, and your general health is important.

Stay safe and flexible!



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