Why work on your balance?

All balance in life is important but perhaps one area you have neglected is your own physical balance?  There are many benefits (some surprising) that come from improving your balance, especially as you grow older.

What do we mean by physical balance?

Balance involves a complex system of muscles working from your head to your toes.  (Think about how much effort it takes to stand on one leg). Sitting for long periods of time and poor posture from leaning over a computer or desk all contribute to weakening muscles.  Practicing moves that challenge your balance spark these muscles back into life.

Balance, co-ordination and strength go hand-in-hand.  Improvements in these areas mean you can stand for longer, walk for longer and better manage uneven surfaces such as slopes, grass, sand and cobble-stone paths.

I always felt my balance was poor and my co-ordination terrible.  By practicing Pilates on a weekly basis (for the last six years) I have managed to improve both.

What are the health benefits of better balance?

There are many health benefits, these include:

  • Reduced risk of injury
  • Prevention of falls (these cause 90% of all hip fractures)
  • Improved muscle tone and strength
  • Reduced risk of back problems
  • Reduced risk of Arthritis
  • Longer life span
  • Rehabilitation, for example after stroke
  • Improved intelligence! (Research has shown that improving balance effects those parts of the brain that affect memory and understanding)

What can I do to improve my balance?

Unless you have a medical reason for not being able to weight-bear, everyone can work on their balance.   Even if you have a condition that affects your bones/co-ordination  you can probably do something. (Always best to check with your GP/Physician first).

Some exercises are known to strengthen 'proprioception' (Perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body). These include Pilates, Yoga and Tai Chi (the ancient Chinese martial art that involves slow turning movements),  shifting your weight and deep breathing.  Most kinds of dancing also involves balance and is great fun!

Having said this, a good exercise class that incorporates strength training will undoubtedly involve balance and co-ordination.

Quick action you can take today

The good news is you don’t need any equipment or to join a class to improve your balance.  Think of all those times you are just standing up, for example brushing your teeth, queuing at the supermarket, cooking (keep safe here).  Here are a few techniques you can start today:

  • Stand up straight balancing on both feet with them reasonably wide apart.  Just practice standing like this for a few minutes.  Then bring the feet closer together so your heels touch each other and the big toes touch each other (almost).  This gives you a smaller base on which to balance, making it harder. 
  • Tightrope walking heel to toe (without the tightrope!) works in a similar way.
  • Standing on one leg (for 10 seconds and build up to 30). Start near to a wall or surface you can reach out to so it’s there if you need it.
  • To make standing on one leg even harder….  shut your eyes!

You may find one side is more difficult than the other (this is very normal) but try to keep things equal.

As with much else, your balance erodes with time so now is definitely the time to start working on it!