For many people, it happens slowly over time. You find yourself having to sit down to put your pants on in the morning. Perhaps you notice you’re holding the banister more often while going down the stairs. Maybe you feel a slight dip in your confidence right before you step on an uneven surface. How did this happen? You’ve always had good balance?!?
As busy adults, we don’t have a ton of spare time so, naturally we tend to avoid activities that physically slow us down—especially if they challenge our balance. We intentionally seek out flat, predictable, solid surfaces (floors, sidewalks, etc.) to tread all day. Yet, if you watch children negotiate their surroundings, they seem to seek out balance challenges, just for the fun of it! My 7-year-old is a prime example of this phenomenon. She can’t resist walking along the edge of every curb she can find. She balances on oddly shaped rocks in the park. She walks a line of a tiled floor only to quickly decide to hop on tiles only of a certain color.
When we actively engineer these everyday challenges out of our lives, it eventually leads to the deterioration of our ability to balance as a whole. And, unfortunately many of us don’t recognize this subtle decline until we begin stumbling or even falling.
The good news, in most cases, is that we can learn to improve balance. But first, let me share with you some of the intricacies involved with balance.
The brain interprets input from several different areas to keep our bodies upright and not wobbling uncontrollably. These are:
- The Vestibular System: The vestibular system is made up of sensory organs located in the inner ear, and is largely responsible for helping to maintain posture (head over feet) while in motion.
- Vision: Information from the eyes is important for the brain to recognize where the body is, relative to other objects (trees, buildings, the horizon, etc.)
- Muscles and Joints: Sensory input from the skin, muscle and joint receptors (called proprioceptors) give the brain information that relates to direction of travel, stability or instability of surfaces (firm, soft, slick) on which you are walking, as well as other data that tells the brain where the body is in space.
As you can see, the steadiness of the human body depends on the integration and coordination of these 3 systems. If the intertwining feedback to the brain is interrupted by illness, injury, surgery, or even the natural aging process, it will affect balance as a whole. Therefore, a good balance training program must first address all three systems.
Try standing with feet together for 30 seconds. Is this easy, or do you find yourself swaying a bit? If you sway, work on this same task daily until you sway less. For the next progression, ask a friend or loved one to stand by as needed for assistance, and try the same drill with eyes closed for 30 seconds. Is this easy, or do you find yourself swaying a bit? Again, with someone standing by for safety, you can practice this daily until it becomes easier.
Increasing the Challenge:
Can you walk in a straight line? Find a line along a hardwood floor or down a hallway. You don’t have to walk as if on a tightrope, but imagine you’re on a 6-inch wide balance beam. Walk this way for about 10 feet. Can you stay on the beam without missing a step or losing balance? If so, try making the beam narrower. No cheating! Let your arms swing normally at your sides, if possible.
As your skills improve, you can start to look for increasing challenges to your balance, like trying the drills I just illustrated on uneven surfaces like a grassy patch in your back yard. If you would like to up the challenge even more, follow the lead of children, and get creative. Each day find a new balance challenge at home at a park or on your way to work. Remember to have fun but also make sure make sure it’s relatively safe.
If you need a little more help and guidance, we now offer a 6-week small group balance program called the Kinect-Balance Series. For more information contact us at 804-823-9600 or [email protected] and see if Kinect-Balance is right for you.