The majority of people – including the inactive, active and very fit – tend to define balance as the ability to “not fall over”.
However balance is much more than not falling and lack of it can negatively affect a number of major bodily systems. It is also connected with increased risk of a number of health conditions including diabetes, osteoporosis, neurological ailments, cardiovascular diseases and even dementia. Poor balance is also linked to poor athletic performance by way of reduced motor control, strength and power.
Simple put balance is defined as the ability to distribute your body weight within your “base of support” (the area in contact with the ground). Balance also varies between fixed posture balance and moving balance – both are important. The point to remember is that balance is complex and depends on the synergy of many body systems.
At the most obvious level good balance will reduce the risk of falling (it is estimated that for all falls of the over 75 year olds where the hip is fractured, 37% will die within a year of the fall and only 20% will make a full recover).
However by taking steps we need to address balance issues, we are also working to strengthen the muscular system, improving cardio function, respiratory health and surprisingly neurological health. As our balance improves so do a number of our body systems. Remember balance work and core work are synonymous, so balance work is also very toning.
Some Basic Principles for Improving Balance
Start with static/non moving balance exercises until you are confident – then move to dynamic exercises
Slowly begin to work on more challenging surfaces eg uneven ground, beaches, going uphill/downhill
Work to strengthen the calves (esp outer calves) thighs, gluteal and core muscles
4 Simple Balance Exercises
- Simple Leg Lifts – lift one knee at a time to hip (lower if this is difficult) and hold for up to 1 minutes
- Standing Heel Lifts – lift both heels off the ground slowly and descend with control (for extra difficulty extend the arms overhead as well)
- Step Ups – using a bench, box or low wall, step up with one leg and lift the other leg to knee height. Repeat several times on each side
- Walking Lunge – start from upright and step one leg out bending both the front and back knee to 90 – push back to stand and repeat several times. When confident practice walking forward/backwards by lunging