Balance is essential for everyone not only mentally and in our daily lives, but also physically to keep us upright and symmetrical. Balance is required for athletes to prevent and rehab from injuries including ankle sprains and overuse problems. Balance is also required for all adults to prevent falling, whether off a ladder or on ice or in the dark. As we age, our balance diminishes so it is critical to practice throughout our lives or we lose it. As the saying goes, use it or lose it! You may take your balance for granted now, but it will not be the same down the road if you don't tend to it.
Balance is a component of strength because we rely on the many stabilizing muscles in our body to maintain our balance. As a former gymnast, handstands are the epitome of balance; however, most of us remain on our feet. Thus, we require lower body and core/abdominal balance to stay upright. In addition to muscle strength, three other components contribute to balance including vision, proprioception, and the vestibular system.
- Vision refers to our eye sight. This explains why more people fall in the dark than in lighted areas. For safety, it is always a good idea to have night lights near the bathroom if you often get up in the middle of the night to go.
- Proprioception refers to touch. Our feet can feel the ground underneath us and send feedback to our brains about the surface we are on. This explains why it is easier to walk on a firm sidewalk than on soft sand at the beach.
- Vestibular refers to the inner ear and involves motion, equilibrium, and spatial orientation. This explains why problems such as vertigo and dizziness can greatly affect our balance.
A weakness or deficits in any of these areas puts us at a greater risk for injuries and falls. I see multiple patients every week for balance, both young and old. Balance training boils down to several fundamental exercises that are easy to implement into your daily routine. You can do any of the exercises below when brushing your teeth, standing in line at the grocery store, or in the kitchen while cooking.
1. Single Leg Stance
- First, stand on one leg on a firm surface such as a hard wood floor. Try to hold for 30 seconds to 1 minutes.
- If that is too challenging, stand at a counter or chair and use your arms to help balance.
- If that is too easy, progress to performing on a pillow.
- If a pillow is too easy, progress to performing on a balance disc.
(Note: The position of the leg that is not on the ground is your choice. You can hold it out to the front, back, or side of you. I prefer to hold my foot by my knee.)
2. Tandem Stance
- First, stand with one foot in front of the other. Try to hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Similar to above, if it is too hard, use your arms for help.
- If it is too easy, perform on a pillow.
- If a pillow is too easy, progress to walking heel toe to make it more dynamic.
3. Eyes Closed
- As mentioned above, vision is one of the key components of balance. When you remove vision, you must rely on our other sensory organs to maintain upright.
- First, try just standing with your eyes closed. If that is easy, you can progress to any of the following with your eyes closed: feet together, tandem stance, single leg stance, or standing on a pillow.
Stay ahead of the game and practice your balance!