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Why is balance (or balancing) so important?

Updated: May 5, 2023

The following is the contribution I made to CNN health about Balance. Full article in CNN is linked here.


I educate trainers and clients on how to be able to thrive through doing exercise, nutrition and stress management.


Balance is our ability to be able to be stable- first and foremost in a static circumstance but also in dynamic situations.


As we age past 30, the number of fast twitch muscles we have decline.


Fast twitch muscles help us to be able to react- when we trip over something to catch or land our fall; when we need to change direction quickly to avoid collisions with other people, and to be able to quickly react to avoid injury (perhaps objects falling from a cupboard or a rogue ball in the park flying towards our head). Our ability to not just be able to get through a day but also be able to thrive during a typical day plus desired activities is certainly impacted by balance.



Furthermore, our strength ability is impacted by balance. Our body is very smart in attempting to avoid injury and will not lift from an unsteady base. So when we want to be able to pick something up and we do not have good balance we will have less strength potential until we have more balance. Also if we do not have adequate strength to tense muscles, it is also harder to balance so these two go hand in hand.


Furthermore working on our posture by getting stronger can help improve our control of our centre of gravity (for example; a forward head tilt - for every inch forward your head tilts forward the pressure on your spine almost doubles. Your body is compensating for this "phone reading" posture by stiffening your neck muscles and bringing you into pain).


When we talk about senses we usually talk about 5 senses but there are actually a 6th and 7th of our body awareness (proprioception) and spacial orientation (vestibular awareness).

These decline with age, can be impacted by cold immersion or can be impacted with brain injury.



As with all things, our body is conditioned to lose what we don't regularly use and practice, and balance is no different. In fact balance and fitness are very fair, the more purposeful and regular attempts for these skills will show immediate improvement.

Here are some tips/exercises to address balance in the above-highlighted ways:


Start slow and increase your walking and potentially work up to cycling on a stationary bike (close to a wall if you feel particularly unstable). Walking stairs is a great way to help the lower body to strengthen too. The vestibular system thrives off lots of sensory input so try adding walking on your toes, or walking on your heels, kneeling on the ground, sir to stand from a chair and doing a few more movements across different planes of your body.




Regular practice of balance is key- so in a safe environment where you are close to a hand rail practice shifting weight to one leg (it may be you cannot lift the other leg at first if you haven't been practicing this). Each time you can try for a little longer, or place more weight on one leg until you can hold the other leg off the floor. Work up to one hand holding on, to one finger tip. Do this over the course of weeks and find new ways to challenge your balance.

Keep your eyes looking at an object that isn't moving. Your head is about 11LB so if it's moving like your gaze is, it'll be harder to balance.

My senior clients work up to clustering their balance practice with something they have to do every day- so they work on being able to stand on one leg to brush their teeth (as they have to do that at least twice a day for 2 mins each time!)


Another tool is allowing yourself to go without footwear (where safe) to be able to learn the sensory feedback associated with balance in the feet too. Mechanoreceptors (balance nerves) send messages to our brain to let us know our feet are working and where they are in space. Once trained adequately to balance without footwear, try stepping on a yoga mat or thin pillow and try that challenge.




I also like to use "complex's" in my clients training to engage mentation, (once graduated from the base exercises above). So a lunge to a squat to a single leg balance. Start by using visual feedback from a mirror but then work to do these without a mirror and once proficient include some activities where there is no visual feedback, such as having your eyes closed. These kinds of exercises work the cerebellum which is an important part of the brain for balance too.


The 'Otago Exercise Program" for falls prevention study found that falls predicted increased mortality, so any work that can be done to reduce chances of falling, injury and improve quality of life (like the above suggested exercises) will provide many benefits besides living longer, but also living better. Benefits can be achieved regardless of starting age (including if you are over 90 years old).


I test my clients ability to stand on one leg as part of their initial health screen. I first ask them to stand on one leg if they can; if they do that for 45s without touching down with the other leg; I ask them to close one eye and again try for 45s not touching down, then if they feel comfortable to try it with both eyes closed and try for the full 45s. If they touch down at any point they do not continue to the next phase (only try if you are safely away from objects that you might hurt yourself on if you were to fail). Closing the eyes removes the visual feedback for the person, hence being able to test spacial and bodily awareness.


There you have it: enjoy :) Do you have any questions? Reach out to me here and lets chat about how I can help!

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