Balance is an extremely important component of our health. As we age, our ability to maintain good balance may become challenged, leading to an increased risk of falls and potential injury. Just as we want to train our muscles to be strong, we should also train our balance systems to keep us safe and stable as we walk, skip and jump through life! What makes up our balance? We have three systems that make up our balance: vision, proprioception, and vestibular.
Vision: Using our eyes to watch where we are moving. In normal conditions, healthy individuals only rely on their vision 10% of the time while balancing on a firm, stable surface. As we get older, if we do not continue to train the other two systems (described below), we begin to rely more on our vision to keep us balanced. This in turn, can affect our posture and safety while walking.
Proprioception: Our ability to detect where our body is in space by feeling the position we are in.
Try it. Close your eyes in a safe position, hold your right arm in the air above your head. Wiggle your fingers. You didn’t watch your arm go overhead, but you know where it is because you can feel where your arm is being held in space, and you can feel yourself wiggling those fingers...that’s proprioception!
Vestibular: Our “inner ear” balance, working closely with the eyes to detect any sudden changes in the position of our head. The vestibular system uses this information to keep us upright if an unexpected change in head position occurs.
How can we improve our balance?
Just as we can train our muscles to become stronger, we can train these balance systems to become stronger too! Training your balance starts with safe, consistent practice. In order to improve your balance, you must challenge each system described above. Improving balance and challenging these systems can feel uncomfortable. The most important tip for balance training is to make sure you are in a safe position while practicing to avoid falls and injury.
Safety Tips For Balance Training
- Depending on skill level and any other needed guidelines, you may start by sitting or standing for balance exercises.
- Sitting balance: perform in a chair with armrests to begin, then progress to a chair without armrests, as appropriate.
- Standing balance: perform in a corner of your home between two sturdy walls, without doors. If you do lose your balance, you will fall directly into the wall and remain upright and safe. You may also consider practicing next to a sturdy countertop as your balance improves.
- Use a timer that has sound so you can focus on your exercise and you’re not watching the clock.
- Remember to pace yourself and avoid progressing too fast! Work up to performing each exercise for 30-60 seconds, and be able to repeat each one 3-5 times before moving on to the next position.
Interested in getting a custom balance routine from one of our experts? Click HERE to learn more about the Wellview services available to you. We can’t wait to work with you!
– Courtney Rusomaroff, DPT