You’ve heard it before… balance is important in life. Eating balanced meals, balancing your budget, and making sure your life is in balance to offset stress. Balance in every aspect of your life is an honorable goal. Especially important is your body’s balance mechanism, your ability to maintain an upright posture while moving, so that you prevent falling, which can have detrimental consequences.
In the past, balance was often trained while standing on one leg. Perhaps you did this with your eyes open and then closed. But how often do we actually need this activity in life? Does standing like a stork really train you for real life?
To train balance effectively, the activities you do should mimic the movements and situations that you encounter that challenge your balance. Balance is necessary while reaching overhead to get an object, bending down to pick something up, walking on a steep staircase without a railing and of course trying to stay upright while navigating an icy sidewalk. The best exercises to do to mimic these situations might be lunges with arms overhead, squats or single leg squats while bending forward, stepping up on a step without holding on to something and walking with socks on a slippery surface.
Balance, the ability to stay upright, is also influenced by many other additional factors including your overall strength, awareness, cognitive ability and age. Individuals who have difficulty rising from a seated position due to strength issues are more likely to fall. People who are not concentrating while moving may not see the pot hole in the pavement, or the crack on the sidewalk and thus may fall. Individuals with impaired brain functioning are more prone to balance issues due to an inability to synthesize all the information needed to allow for movement and balance.
Aging is another factor that influences balance. Older individuals may lack proprioception, which is your ability to sense where your body is without relying on vision. Falls can happen more frequently in the older age group, especially in low light environments. A hearing impairment can also effect your ability to balance. Fall risk rises three times even with a mild hearing loss. New research suggests that the brain may not be able to focus on balance and gait simultaneously when it requires extra work to process impaired hearing. Individuals with hearing difficulties who do not wear their hearing aids at night, who proceed to go to the bathroom, are at risk for falling, especially with the combined added risk of low light situations.
How do you prevent falling and improve your balance? Practice balancing in functional ways, concentrate on what you are doing and do exercises and activities that keep you strong and fit. Make balance a priority. One simple activity that I do to challenge my balance every day is putting my socks on while standing up. It’s a great functional exercise that keeps you strong, stable and upright.
Stay strong, stay active and stay upright.
Dr. Shelley Alper,