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How Balanced Are You?

Having good balance is crucial. However, few people ever think about it or train to improve it.  No matter what your age losing your balance at critical times can have disastrous results.  Balance is the result of a whole body network that includes the vestibular portion of your brain, neurons which sense position and feeling all over your body and your postural muscles which keep you balanced.  This complex network must make changes over milliseconds.  We use our balance whenever you move or hold any position.  We mainly stress our balance when we are tired or doing complex activities.  As we age, we are even more likely to stress our balance because of our ability to feel and sense decreases, we are weaker, and we are more likely to be tired.  Even young people are at risk of losing their balance.  If we lose our balance, we can have severe accidents and suffer traumatic injuries.

Almost anyone can maintain and improve their balance by using their balance. Next, I am going to outline four ways to test your balance and then give you some example actives which can improve your balance.  Once learned, doing these activities will enhance your balance reducing your risk of suffering physical trauma.

 

Test Your Balance:

  1. In a safe environment.  Set a timer for 30 seconds.  Stand with your feet together, but not the rest of your legs.  Close your eyes and start the timer. Note the amount of swaying you do and focus on what muscles you use to keep yourself from swaying.  When the timer goes off, keep your eyes closed but move your feet about shoulder-width apart.  Do you sway any with your feet apart? After about another 30 seconds open your eyes. Compare how you felt when your feet were together to how it felt with them apart.  The better your balance, the less difference you will notice. After a few months of intermittent balance training, repeat this test, and you will see an improvement.

  2. With your eyes open stand over a mark on the floor with your feet hip-width apart, your hands on your hips.  Now jump vertically up and pivot 90 degrees. Hold your landing position for at least 10 seconds.  Notice hold long it takes before you feel balanced.  Most people it will be many seconds in the beginning, but with training, you will feel balanced in less time.  Repeat this cycle a number times to get a good feeling of how long it takes to feel balanced.  Also, alternate turning 90 degrees right and then 90 degrees left.

  3. With your feet hip-width apart in front of a stable chair which will not move, close your eyes and sit down and immediately stand up.  Repeat this sequence keeping your eyes shut for 5 to 10 times.  As you do this, concentrate on which muscles you use to maintain your balance.  Over time you will notice feeling more balance while you are changing from the standing to sitting position and when you switch from the sitting to standing position.

  4. It is best to do this last test outside or in front of a window.  Stand upright with your eyes open. Stand on one leg, shift your focus by looking right, looking left and then up or down while keeping your head forward, then look at a fixed point on the horizon in front of you. Do this a few times each time vary the specific fixed point in the horizon a little higher and a little lower.  Try to get a sense of which fixed point makes you feel the most stable and balanced. Do this standing on either leg.

 

 

Balance Training

 

  • One of the best ways to train your balance is to use it frequently.  One way to do that is to get in the habit of standing on one leg.  You can stand on one leg while waiting in line at the store while standing at the sink brushing your teeth, or doing the dishes.  While standing on one leg, notice what muscles you use to maintain your balance.  Try to increase the time you can stand on one leg progressively.  Of course, switch legs.  The longer you stand on one leg, the more likely you will start to feel your leg and foot muscles will fatigue.  Over time you while notice that these muscles will fatigue less and you will be able to balance longer.  The key to this training is to make it habit so that you do it often.  For example get into the habit of standing on one foot every time you brush your teeth.

  • Another way to efficiently train your balance is to stand with your feet closer together.  Even with your eyes open, you will notice that you seem less stable with your feet closer together and you will be stimulating your balance to stay still.  You can practice this almost anywhere.

  • Another excellent balance training exercise is to stand with your feet hip-width apart jump straight up and turn 90 degrees to the right, and after you are stable on landing, you jump up and turn back to the left.  Over time you can add difficulty to this by increasing the frequency of your jumps and progressive turn further than 90 degrees (all the way to turning 360 degrees).

  • A fourth example of a good balance exercise is to stand in front of a chair and sit down and then stand up.  You can make this more difficult by closing your eyes, doing faster, or by doing with your feet closer together.

 

After a few months of balance training, go back and repeat the four balance tests at the beginning of this article.  You will notice how much your sense of balance has improved.  Improving your balance will not only reduce your risk of injury from falling, but it will also improve your skill and enjoyment of everyday activities.

 


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