Balance is something we usually do not think about until the winter snow and ice arrives, and we try to precariously pick our way across frozen parking lots and avoid snowdrifts. However, balance, like flexibility, core strength and mobility, is something that we need to work on so our bodies will work effectively.
When your body is in perfect balance, your center of gravity is aligned directly above the point where your foot touches the ground. If there are any misalignments, you will start to wobble. In order to keep your balance, your body has to recognize what is occurring and know how to correct it as quickly as possible. If you notice too late, or if your body over-corrects, you will fall over, potentially injuring yourself.
Unfortunately falling is more likely to occur with age because, like so many other aspects of our bodies, balance deteriorates as we get older. Balance also weakens as a result of injuries to the lower extremities. A sprained ankle, a twisted knee, a bum hip – all of these can break the communication between the leg joints and the brain, weakening the body’s ability to perceive where it is in a space.
There are, however, a few simple things you can do to improve your balance. In fact, if you exercise regularly, you already have a head start on this process.
- Incorporate balancing exercises into your workout. During strength training, add exercises that work one arm or leg at a time. You can also change your stance. A split stance requires more balance than a wide stance. And, of course, if you are really up for a challenge you can stand on one leg.
- Use an exercise ball. There are many different exercises you can do with an exercise ball, but another good way to improve your balance (and burn a few extra calories) is to sit on the ball while you watch TV or check your email.
- Add balance exercises to daily chores. While you are standing in line at the grocery store or bank, try to balance on one leg for as long as possible. If you start to wobble, bend your knee slightly or focus on a stable point in the distance. You can also stand on one leg while you are brushing your teeth or washing the dishes. If that becomes too easy, challenge yourself by closing your eyes or by standing on an uneven surface (like a pillow).
- Work on your stomach muscles. Having strong stomach muscles improves your balance so doing exercises like sit-ups and other core exercises will make a big difference.
- Take yoga. You might think that yoga just helps improve flexibility, but many yoga postures are done while standing on one leg, helping to improve your balance as well. Yoga will also help improve your stability and muscle endurance.
- Learn how to do Tai Chi. Many scientific studies have shown that Tai Chi greatly improves balance and reduces the risk of falling, especially among the elderly.
- Find a class or play a sport that requires balance. If you are not into yoga or Tai Chi, there are tons of other interesting and fun activities you can do that will also improve your balance. Try martial arts, horseback riding, skateboarding, ballet, jazz or hip-hop.
- Take it slow. Whatever you decide to do to improve your balance, you need to make sure that you start slowly. You can easily hurt yourself if you rush into balancing exercises and without allowing your body to adjust to being in an unstable environment.
Improving your balance is an easy way to make your life a little easier and safer. Better balance reduces the risk of falls in the elderly and reduces the risk of sprained ankles and other injuries in younger age groups. You do not have to wait until you have been injured to have a consultation with a physical therapist. Talk to a physical therapist at Health First Physiotherapy to help prevent falls from occurring. We are trained to understand that way the body works and can help develop an exercise and balance program that fits your body’s needs.
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McHugh MP, Tyler TF, Mirabella MR, Mullaney MJ, Nicholas SJ. The Effectiveness of a Balance Training Intervention in Reducing the Incidence of Noncontact Ankle Sprains in High School Football Players. Am J Sports Med. 2007;35:1289-1294.
Wu G. Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Tai Chi for Improving Balance and Preventing Falls in the Older Population – A Review. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2002;50:746-754.
Courtesy of Tim Hunt, Health First Physiotherapy clinic.