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Better Balance: The Importance of Maintaining and Improving Balance

Posted by Jill Derryberry on Jan 20, 2023 1:52:21 PM
Jill Derryberry
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 Merriam-Webster has quite a few definitions of the word balance.  But the first one, and the one we will be using in this post, is this: 


: physical equilibrium 

trouble keeping your balance on a sailboat 

lost his balance and fell 

a boxer kept off balance for a whole round 


: the ability to retain one's balance 

Gymnasts must have a good sense of balance. 


Basically, balance is when your weight is evenly distributed in a way where you can stand or move and not fall or catch yourself if you trip so that you do not fall.  There are many components to good balance.   The central nervous system, inner ear, eyes, muscles, bones, and joints all play a part in our balance.   


Having good balance is important for everyone as falls can cause serious injuries at any age.  However, many factors make balance more difficult for older adults and any subsequent falls more serious.  The CDC reports that one in four of those 65 and older fall each year and one out of every five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury.  Working to maintain our ability to balance as we age is extremely important for our safety and if we don’t keep working on it, we will lose that ability.   


You can test your balance.  Try standing on one leg and time yourself.  (Be sure to have something stable nearby in case you need it to steady yourself).  Can you hold that one legged position for at least 10 seconds?   A study that was released in 2021 in the BMJ, showed that being able to balance on one leg for 10-seconds can predict a longer life.   Out of the 1,700 older adults in the study, 20% of them could not balance on one leg for 10-seconds or more.  They found that not being able to balance for at least 10-seconds was associated with a twofold risk of death from any cause within 10 years.  This is just an association, not a causation, but still data suggesting how important balance is for our health.   


What Impacts Our Balance? 


Because there are many factors at work to provide our body with balance, there are quite a few things that can cause unbalance.   


Some medical conditions can affect a person’s balance.  Disorders that affect the central nervous system like stroke, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease can impact one’s ability to balance.   


Anything that impacts the inner ear’s vestibular system also affects balance.  Vertigo might be the most often heard of problem in the inner ear.  Even a cold can cause temporary disruption of your inner ear balance.  Also, the nerve cells that make up our vestibular system decrease with age which is one of the reasons older adults struggle more with balance issues.  When the tiny structures in this system are damaged in any way, dizziness is likely along with feelings of being unsteady.  Age related changes to the inner ear structures is a common cause of balance issues in seniors.   


Vision is another important part of our ability to balance.  Being able to see what is around helps to stay steady and on our feet.  Eye problems such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration can all affect one’s physical stability.  This is an easy thing to confirm, try standing on one foot with your eyes closed versus with your eyes open.  Big difference!   


Certain medications and alcohol can also impact our balance. 


Any limitations to range of motion will potentially cause asymmetrical movements and in turn potential balance problems.   


Nerves called proprioceptors tell the brain about changes in conditions that call for bodily adjustments.  If our muscles and tendons are weak, stiff, or slow, we won’t be able to react as fast as needed, or at all to avoid a fall.  Our muscle tone starts to diminish as early as our mid-thirties, so it is important to do strength training exercises to preserve (and/or gain) muscle.   


How to Improve Balance 


Despite it being normal for balance to diminish with age, there are things to do to improve or maintain it.  A study published in BMJ revealed that balance training for older adults reduced the risk of injurious falls by 43 percent and the risk of falls resulting in fractures by 61 percent. 


Balance training consists of strengthening the muscles of the core, increasing (or maintaining) flexibility, having good posture, and boosting endurance.  Things that should be part of everyone’s wellness routine!  There are many ways to perform balance training.  Tai Chi and Yoga are popular ways to improve flexibility and balance.  Many exercises using only bodyweight (no equipment) can help balance and resistance training can improve balance by strengthening core muscles.  The stronger the muscles in your legs, glutes, feet and abdominals, the better your balance.   


Having better posture keeps our center of gravity over our feet, not pitching forward, which helps to keep us from falling.  Throughout the day think of sitting or standing tall, lifting your chest, and rolling your shoulders up then back and down.  


Exercises to Help Improve Balance 


Many balance exercises do not require any equipment.  All the moves below can be done at the gym or at home.  Try these exercises 2 – 3 times a week.   Gradually increase the duration of the exercises as you get stronger.  As with any new workout program, check with your doctor first before starting new activity.   


Balance Exercises for Those with Unsteady Balance: 


1. Sit to Stand – Sit in a firm chair then stand, then carefully sit back down.  Cross your arms at your chest or hold them straight out in front of you throughout the exercise.  Repeat 10 times.   

2. Calf Raises – Stand behind your chair, holding on to the back of the chair, and lift your heels raising up onto your toes, then lower your heels back to the floor. Repeat 10 times. 

3. Side Leg Lifts – Stand behind your chair, holding on to the back of the chair, and lift one leg out to the side then bring your leg back in.  Perform 10 repetitions per side. 



Balance Exercises for Those with Better Balance: 


1. Heel to Toe– Focus on a spot ahead of you.  Stand with your feet heel to toe and hold the position from five to 30 seconds.  Switch feet and repeat.  Repeat up to 5 times.  As this gets easier, add a walk.  Start with your feet heel to toe then bring your back foot in front of the other and so on walking forward and then back at a slow and controlled pace. 

2. One Leg Stand – Practice standing with only one foot on the floor, holding the opposite foot up and hold for five to 30 seconds.  Switch feet and repeat.  Repeat up to 5 times. 

3. Braiding – Stand up straight with your feet together.  Cross your left foot in front of your right foot then step out with your right foot and cross behind with your left foot.  Continue this for 10 steps to the right, then bring your feet together and then do 10 steps to the other side crossing your right foot in front of your left.   


Having the ability to balance is an important part of our health and wellness.  The good news is that it is never too late to work on and improve our balance.  There are things we can do to keep our balance or get it back!  If you aren’t sure what to do or want some help, ask a LivRite trainer today!   


Watch for videos for these balance training exercises on our Instagram page @livriteindy – Follow us there!   

Topics: LivRite News