Balance is one of the least discussed components of a complete fitness program. Your balance system includes any sense within the body that sends messages to the brain about how you are moving; in turn the brain activates the appropriate muscles that allow you to move without falling. Technically the word that relates to body balance is proprioception; this means the body’s ability to interpret and use information about your special position. Your feet, your inner ear, your eyes and your other senses work together to activate and deactivate muscle groups.
As youths, we are often unaware of how important balance is to our everyday activities. Going up and down stairs, stepping off a curb, standing up or turning around quickly; all of these movements require good balance. Balance is very much linked to strength – i.e. if your legs aren’t strong you will have more difficulty going up and down stairs or getting out of a chair quickly. Unfortunately, balance is one of those components that we often don’t pay attention to until we have lost it! This is precisely why incorporating balance into your exercise program now is worthwhile. Of course, for older adults balance is critical to helping prevent falls.
As we age our strength decreases, our sight begins to wane and shifts in body weight or posture begin to negatively impact our proprioception, hence balance. The good news, however, is that just like any other task, gaining or re-gaining balance happens with practice. By training for and practicing balance skills you will see quick improvements in coordination, athletic skill and posture. By incorporating just a few minutes of daily balance exercises into your route you will be on your way to better balance.
Exercises that improve balance include:
- Standing on one foot (with use of a chair or bar for assistance if needed)
- Standing on foam pads
- Bosu ball exercises
- Heel-to-toe walk
- Tai Chi
- Yoga postures