While many of us head to the gym to keep in shape and maintain optimal health, we often neglect balance training. Instead, we head to the treadmill for cardio and the weights for strength training. Sure, there’s no denying that these exercises are important for muscle stability and mobility which can certainly help with body balance. However, it’s also important to use a series of balance exercises that focus specifically on improving and maintaining your body balance.
Psst: They can also improve joint stability.
But why start now? Well, your balance slowly begins to diminish in your 40s and gradually worsens as you age. This can lead to potential problems, including an increased risk of injury. And as you have likely already experienced yourself, healing from an injury takes significantly longer the older you get. So, let’s lower your risk of injury by 45% simply by working on your balance, according to new studies. Here’s everything you need to know to get started.
- 1 But Why is Balance So Important?
- 2 What Affects Balance
- 3 How to Check Your Balance
- 4 Ways to Improve Balance
But Why is Balance So Important?
The importance of balance really can’t be stressed enough. It’s the body’s ability to maintain centered over the base of support; to stay on your feet or your knees or to put it simply, to not fall over when doing a specific activity or movement. Whether you’re standing or kneeling, dancing or walking, balance plays a key role. Unfortunately, many of us forget to work on our balance despite it being classified as one of the four types of exercises that should be completed by all, according to The American Heart Association.
But is it really that important? Absolutely!
In terms of physical benefits, practising balance exercises can improve your posture and prevent injuries by 45%, according to studies. Better posture can give you more strength and energy and strength, so you can move confidently and freely and confidently. Balance can aid in recovery and help overcome stiffness and other uncomfortable symptoms. And if you’re into playing a sport, improving your balance can also make you a better player.
However, the importance of balance also goes beyond the physical health aspect and also has many benefits for your mental health. Not only does it prevent stress, which also prevents a plethora of physical health concerns, disease and illnesses, but the balance can also give you mental confidence. It can affect your limbic system, which determines how your body responds to different emotions, improve your focus, enhance your mind-body connection, and just make you feel good overall.
Here’s a quick recap of the benefits of balance
- Improve your posture endurance, awareness and control
- Reduce your risk of injury by 45%
- Assist with overcoming illnesses and injuries
- Make you a better athlete (yes, even if it’s tennis or swimming)
- Help overcome stiffness and other uncomfortable symptoms
- Increase your mental confidence
- Allow you to move freely and confidently
- Have positive effects on your limbic system (how your body responds to emotions)
- Enhance your focus
- Strengthen your mind-body connection
What Affects Balance
When it comes to the things that can affect your balance, there’s certainly no shortage, unfortunately. From illness to injury, from medication and aging to inner ear problems and blood pressure issues, balance is something that really takes the brunt of it all.
The most common things that affect balance, aside from simply not working on it, are:
- Health problems, ear infections, vertigo, circulation problems, etc.
- Certain conditions, such as arthritis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and M.S.
- Low blood sugar or dehydration
The good news is that no matter how bad your balance is, it can always be learned and improved using balance-specific exercises.
How to Check Your Balance
So, you think you have a fairly decent balance, eh? Well, there’s no better time to find out than right now. While a trip to the doctor’s office will be needed for a proper exam and diagnosis, there are some things you can do at home to test your balance.
Method One: Testing Balance on Both Feet
Set your timer on your smartwatch or phone for 60 seconds. While standing with your feet together, ankles touching, and arms folded across your chest; close your eyes. You should be able to stand for those 60 seconds (swaying is normal) without moving your feet. Did just fine? Great!
Next, set your timer for 38 seconds and place one foot in front of the other and close your eyes. Do this for both feet. You should be able to stand for the full 38 seconds.
Method Two: Testing Balance on One Foot
Standing on one foot, lift your other foot off of the floor without letting it touch anything else, including you standing leg. Now, do this with your eyes closed.
People under the age of 60 are typically able to hold the pose for about 29 seconds with their eyes open and 21 seconds with their eyes closed. If you’re older than 61, you should be able to hold the pose for 22 seconds with your eyes open, and 10 seconds with eyes closed.
Method Three: Testing Balance on the Ball of Foot
Standing on one foot, place your other foot against the inside of your standing knee (like a tree pose in yoga). Bring your heel off of the floor on your standing leg and hold the pose. You should be able to do this for 25 seconds.
When checking your balance at home, make sure there is cushioning around you or have a person with you to catch you in case you fall.
Ways to Improve Balance
One of the amazing things about balance is that you can always improve it using activities, such as stretching, stabilization and dynamic exercises and task-specific balance skills. You likely already engage in many activities throughout your day that helps sharpen balance, such as walking, biking and even climbing stairs. But to widen your horizons, let’s chat about different ways you can improve your balance.
Using a chair or another sturdy item to hold onto, start by holding yourself steady. Lift one foot approximately to calf level and hold for 10 seconds. Release. Repeat 10-15 times and then switch and do the same for the other leg. As your balance improves, you should be able to hold this position without needing extra support from a chair or other items.
Often called ‘meditation in motion’, tai chi is a noncompetitive, self-paced practice that involves gentle physical exercise and stretching. It’s a great form of exercise for all ages as it is low impact and puts minimal stress on your muscles and joints. It can also help you improve your balance and reduce the risk of injury and boost your overall health and wellness.
Shifting Your Weight
Another simple exercise that can be quite beneficial for improving balance is ‘weight shifts’. Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Slowly lean toward one leg, placing all of your weight on that one leg while lifting your other leg off the ground. Hold for up to 30 seconds, and do the same on the other side.
You knew this one was coming because yoga is an excellent form of exercise that can improve your balance while shaping and toning your body. It’s highly focused on core muscles, which are needed to hold you steady and balanced. Classes are available in pretty much every city and can also be found online.
Just as the name suggests, this movement involves walking heel-to-toe. To begin, simply walk slowly in a straight line, touching your heel to the opposite foot’s toe. Continue doing this for each foot as you go.
Similar to the prior, this movement is super simple and is exactly what it sounds like. Simply use small steps that move your legs apart and then together again. It’s recommended that you move across a room and back again to make sure both sides of your body are targeted. This movement also helps build up your hip and thigh muscles.
This exercise is great for making your calf and ankle muscles stronger, which can give you an amazing balance boost. Start by holding onto a chair or wall for support, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Rise up to your tiptoes and hold for 1 second before lowering. Repeat. You can also do one leg at a time to isolate the movement.
Now that you have a series of effective yet simple movements you can do to improve your balance, it’s time to put your newfound knowledge into action. Find a partner to do the exercises with you or to use as a spotter if you’re worried about falling, wear supportive footwear, find a focal point and you’re ready to get started. You can also check out the Neuro-Balance Therapy program, which we’ve covered recently.