Body balance is so important in our everyday lives, because it represents control. It’s an often overlooked principle of functioning in everyday life. This is true no matter how old you are. Better body balance keeps you upright, makes it easier to move, and helps avoid injuries. It allows you to perform activities often taken for granted, like walking in open spaces without holding onto something, turning to talk to a companion, negotiating steps or curbs without a handrail, walking in grass or sand, or stepping over obstacles. But body balance falls into the “use it or lose it” category, which means it’s important to practice balance, no matter what your age.
Where does balance come from?
Body balance is the result of several systems working together to tell the brain where the body is in space and trigger tiny adjustments to remain in position. For one, tiny nerve receptors in the inner ear detect movement and send signals to the brain about those movements. Your vision tells you where you are as well, sending more information to the brain. Together with the sense of touch – such as the feeling of your feet planted firmly on the floor – these three create what’s called proprioception: the body’s ability to sense its location, movements, and actions. Proprioception allows the brain to react to changes in the environment that may alter balance.
Proprioception, and therefore balance, can be learned, challenged, and improved. The agility and strength that comes from developing good balance helps you move smoothly and confidently throughout the day, and can allow you to react quickly to prevent accidents and resulting injuries.
What are causes of poor balance?
Besides disease or damage to the inner ear, the most common source of declined body balance is the aging process. Critical systems begin to weaken, such as inner ear problems, muscle weaknesses, or neuropathy in the legs and feet. As you age, it’s critical to continually work to improve physical balance to keeping doing the things you like to do.
How to maintain and improve your balance
No matter what your age or ability, there are many ways to improve your balance skills.
One thing to keep in mind is that physical balance begins in your core. The core is more than just your abdomen: strong hips, ankles and gluteal muscles are also critical to good balance. Weak core muscles may lead to more to falls, decreased spine mobility, slower reflexes and lower back injuries.
Here’s a simple exercise you can do anywhere that will not only build proprioception, but strengthen your core as well:
Stand with one hand on or near a chair, table or countertop. With the assistance of one hand, two fingers, or no assistance at all, lift one leg slowly with the knee bent 90 degrees, up to hip height. Keep a tall, upright posture, with your abdominals tight. Try to hold this position for 5-10 seconds, then repeat with your other leg. For an even bigger challenge, try doing this with your eyes closed. But be sure to stay close to your support just in case you lose your balance!
Incorporate balance training into your exercise routine
Remember that core strength and good balance go hand in hand. Work on one, and you’ll automatically improve the other at the same time.
I incorporate core strength and balance work in all my clients’ training programs. Besides simple body weight balance exercises, I like to incorporate tools like the stability ball and the BOSU Balance Trainer to provide a greater proprioceptive challenge.
These tools work so well because they add an instability component to any movement. The less stable, or the smaller, the base underneath you, the more you need to engage your core to maintain balance, and the more your brain and body need to communicate well, to maintain balance. This is what’s known as neuromotor control.
In addition, when working on balance you’re also improving joint stability, strengthening the small stabilizer muscles, and developing internal focus.
In this video, I demonstrate a number of exercises that will both improve your balance and your core strength at the same time. These include standing hurdles, airplane balance, windmills; side lunges to balance and single leg bicep curls; seated knee raise and high plank on the stability ball, and progressively challenging moves on the BOSU Balance Trainer, from standing balance to squats.
Forward, reverse, and side lunges are another good way to work on your balance. Focus on keeping your core engaged as you complete these exercises. Try coming up to balance on one leg after each movement for an even bigger challenge.
Balance is a fundamental aspect of any movement you perform. Think about it: when you’re standing on two feet, you’re maintaining balance, even if you’re not consciously aware of it. So, regularly practice balance and work to improve your core strength to feel better, move better, and live better.
Want to learn how to get the most from your workouts and nutrition while maintaining balance in your life? Send me a note and let’s have a conversation! I’m passionate about helping people incorporate health and fitness into their lives with realistic, real-life strategies. Click here to get more of these articles delivered to your email!