We often think of good balance as one skill – something we either have or we don’t!
I often hear in consults or classes when I ask someone to do an activity that requires a bit of balance: “Sorry, my balance is terrible”!
So what is balance?
Balance is your body’s ability to maintain the body’s centre of mass over it’s base of support. Its super complex and is achieved through a range of sensorimotor systems that involve sensory input, integration of that input, and then motor output.
So information is sent to the brain from the following systems:
👁 vision (sight)
✋ proprioception (touch & awareness of movement or location of our body parts in space)
👂 vestibular (awareness of motion & head position and orientation)
All of that input is then integrated in the brain by the:
🧠 Cerebral cortex
And then all of that integrated information is sent out as motor output to the:
➡️ Eyes and vestibular system
➡️ Body’s joints and muscles
Which together allow for us to maintain balance! Complicated right!?
So can your balance be improved?
With balance involving a complex interaction of systems, there are a number of different factors that can have an impact on it.
👵🏼 Ageing (because all of our systems deteriorate gradually)
🍷 Drugs & alcohol (because of their impact on our brain)
🤕 Injury (because our joint sensors can be injured and our strength and reaction timing can be affected)
So is deteriorating balance just a fact of life? Well..yes, to some extent. But I meet many 20 and 30-somethings who have resigned themselves to the fact that they don’t have good balance! And if feeling un-balanced makes you uneasy and as a result you narrow your exposure to these situations, your balance is likely to deteriorate even faster.
The good news is, just like our strength and mobility, Balance can also be improved through… CHALLENGE 💪
So how can we challenge our balance?
As a physiotherapist, when I am helping someone to improve their balance, we normally start by assessing where their weakness / challenges are. Then we can come up with specific exercises that involve doing *just enough* to make them a bit uneasy (but not cause them to fall / hurt themselves!) And as with strengthening, when these exercises become easier…we make them harder!
If would like to start challenging your balance, try these at home (in an environment where you can safely catch yourself if you start to fall):
1. Stand on one leg while you’re brushing your teeth in the morning
2. Stand on one leg with your eyes closed and see how long you can hold it for
3. Stand with your feet touching closer together on a cushion and ask a friend (or child) to throw ball to you.
Your imagination is really your limit!
And if this all feels too difficult or overwhelming, please reach out! We can come up with a plan together to improve your balance so that it isn’t getting in the way of you trying new things and enjoying your life!