by Mike Dee PT
Balance is one of those things that everybody wants to improve upon. Nobody wants to have a problem with balance, and the patients I have treated that have balance deficits are the ones who are the most motivated to improve. It is more or less a primal instinct to have good balance, and it should be a primary component of your exercise program.
Your body’s balance system entails essentially three parts of the nervous system that rely on one another. The inner ear is a complex system that acts like a gyroscope, providing stability to the body as it moves. Your vision plays a vital role as well.
And while balance exercises do not do anything to affect the inner ear or improve vision, they do develop what is called the proprioceptive system.
Proprioception is your body’s ability to know where you are in space. Raise your arm up to horizontal with your eyes closed. Your brain feels your shirtsleeve on your arm, your muscles contract to lift the arm, deep tissues around your shoulder are being stretched. All these sensations are giving your brain a message that your arm is held horizontally.
If this seems too simple, try this:
Stand up from a chair. Have a table in front of you and be ready to place your hands on the table. With your eyes open, stand on one leg and notice how the muscles of your lower leg contract and work to keep your balance. Lightly touch the table with your hands and close your eyes. Your leg muscles are contracting at a rate that you are not controlling. This is your proprioceptive system responding to your center of gravity and trying to keep you upright. We use this exercise in rehabilitation and it is a great way to have even my eldest client contract her muscles intensely without adding any extra weight. And yes, doing this repeatedly will improve one’s balance.
Closing our eyes teaches us how dependent our balance is on our vision and on our muscles’ ability to contract and keep us upright. The inner ear is the third part of the system, and when there is a problem with the inner ear, a person is rendered very unstable and tends to fall over when they close their eyes.
Include simple balance exercises in your routine during a light warmup and at the beginning of your daily routine. Walking across the floor with a high-knee marching pattern causes you to stand on one leg while moving. Tossing a ball to a partner or off a wall and catching it while standing on one leg is a great challenge. Standing on one leg, bending, and reaching forward two to three feet in front of you and standing back up is another one.
In short, adding simple single-leg standing to any one of your non-machine exercises will help you to develop better balance over time. Get on the good foot – or the weak one!
Mike Dee is a physical therapist and has held certifications as a certified personal trainer and a certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
He is one of the owners and works with his good friends at DEEPT. Send comments and questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.