The human body, the vehicle we all have in common, is naturally unstable. Think about stacking 100+, or even 200+ pounds of something on a base only a few inches wide (our feet). While we are moving around on our feet throughout the day, our bodies fight the challenge of staying upright, and you would be amazed at the complexity of this process that we all take for granted.

As we age, however, risks associated with falling down increase due to a deteriorating sense of balance. The unconscious process used to bend down and tie a loose shoelace or to recover from a friend playfully pushing you can become more difficult and less unconscious — that is if you let it! By understanding the physical components and different muscular and motor systems, we can find ways to starve-off the effects of aging.

Inactivity is a major cause of balance issues

Age coupled with inactivity causes neuromuscular changes between our brain and muscles. These changes causes interruptions in the communication efficiency between the brain and muscles increasing reaction time. When the body’s normal pattern of movement is interrupted, for example when tripping, our muscles can’t react as quickly to catch us from falling down.

Declining sensory ability and weak muscles makes balancing and protecting oneself from harmful falls a greater mental challenge and more fatiguing. Notice some elderly friends or relatives the next time you are around them; those who stop walking when talking are reflecting this mental difficulty! Of course, this phenomenon is toward one end of the spectrum, but hey, wouldn’t you like to walk and talk simultaneously your entire life?!

Age-related changes in health begin at age 25.

Wait…twenty-five?!

I can hear you now: “Whoa whoa whoa, isn’t 25 years old supposed to be our prime?”

Well yes, but the consequence of being inactive that soon can result in a vicious spiral of negative health consequences. Being sedentary accelerates these changes. Your body adjusts to what you are doing or not doing. If you don’t move, your muscles will lose their strength and size over time.

What can I do to improve my balance?

The good news is you can reverse the negative effects of being sedentary. We have the opportunity to improve strength and balance and reduce our risk of future falls by engaging in physical activity every day — building up to 150 minutes of exercise each week. That may sound like a lot of time, but it is only 2.5 hours a week. Not much time to make a huge impact on your overall health…

The greatest exercise programs for improved balance include an excess of two sessions per week that incorporate muscular strength and muscular endurance. Additionally, practicing balance exercises benefits the mind by reminding it how to use certain muscles efficiently. An intelligent exercise program WILL reduce the number of harmful falls and lessen the time we become dependent on others.

Everybody can benefit from improved body awareness and coordination. Balance training additionally provides stability and greater comfort in our knee, ankle, hip, and shoulder joints. If you’re young now, you can train balance to prevent an array of future joint injuries. If you suffer from a chronic joint issue, strengthening your core and muscles one limb at a time is a great step toward long-term pain relief. Try these balance exercises on your own to see where you “stand”:

  • Stand on one foot for over 10 seconds, gradually increase your time up to 30 seconds – Easy? Try closing your eyes!
  •  Use a wall if you need extra support on this one — walk heel to toe for 20 steps. If you don’t need a wall, test yourself and look straight ahead while walking instead of down at your feet.

If you are awesome and already incorporate balance exercises into your current routine, share them with us on the Precision Fitness Facebook page!

authored by kenny palmer