The Importance of Good Balance
Balance exercise is one of the four types of exercise along with strength, endurance and flexibility. Ideally, all four types of exercise would be included in a healthy workout routine and AHA provides easy-to-follow guidelines for endurance and strength-training in its Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults.
They don’t all need to be done every day, but variety helps keep the body fit and healthy, and makes exercise interesting. You can do a variety of exercises to keep the body fit and healthy and to keep your physical activity routine exciting. Many different types of exercises can improve strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance. For example, practicing yoga can improve your balance, strength, and flexibility. A lot of lower-body strength-training exercises also will improve your balance.
Having good balance is important for many activities we do every day, such as walking and going up and down the stairs. Exercises that improve balance can help prevent falls, a common problem in older adults and stroke patients. They can also benefit those who are obese since weight is not always carried or distributed evenly throughout the body. A loss of balance can occur when standing or moving suddenly. Often we are not fully aware that we may have weak balance until we try balance exercises.
Balance exercises can be done every day or as many days as you like and as often as you like. Preferably, older adults at risk of falls should do balance training 3 or more days a week and do standardized exercises from a program demonstrated to reduce falls. It’s not known whether different combinations of type, amount, or frequency of activity can reduce falls to a greater degree. If you think you might be at risk of falling, talk to your doctor. (Heart, 2018)
Balance relies on input from several of the body's systems, including the following:
Visual system. To get an idea of how important vision can be for balance, see if you can stand on one leg with your eyes closed for 30 seconds. (If your performance is wobbly, don't worry; balance training can help stabilize it.) Our eyes also help us adjust our body's position, so we can steer around obstacles in our path.
Vestibular system. If you've ever suffered from vertigo, you know about balance problems caused by inner ear trouble. Nerve receptors in the semicircular canals, the utricle, and the saccule — parts of the inner ear — are sensitive to movements of the head and relay its position to the brain.
Proprioception. Receptors called proprioceptors in the skin, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles receive stimuli (for example, pressure on the bottoms of the feet) indicating the position, orientation, and movement of the body, and convey information to the brain, which uses it to create a constantly changing map of your position. When you lift your right leg, for example, the map is revised, and you maintain your balance by unconsciously shifting your weight to your left leg.
You need sensory input, central processing (motor control), and muscle power to maintain stability during both purposeful movements, such as lifting the foot off the ground during an exercise routine, and reflexive ones, such as recovery from a sudden stumble. Injury, illness, neurological disorders, medications, and advancing age can affect all the systems involved in balance. (Harvard Health, 2007)
Test out your balance today, and work on it often to ensure you don't fall in the future!