Balance – why it’s so important and how you can improve it
For any movement we perform, balance is a fundamental aspect of it.
Often it will come without having to think about it, for example, simply standing upright on our own two feet requires us to maintain balance. While it often comes without thinking, that doesn’t mean it’s something that should be taken for granted. Studies have shown that balance is something that can deteriorate with age, so maintaining it is crucial.1
What are the health benefits associated with good balance?
There are many health benefits associated with balance, both from the preventative side of reducing the chances of injury, to the maintenance side of good health and finally, in helping you recover and build up strength after an injury or illness that has affected your balance:
Balance is not just something that is important for athletes or sports people. It’s important for all of us! This is particularly true when it comes to building core strength. The core can be considered the foundation of your body. It’s made up of several muscle groups that work together to keep us upright, enable us to move well and help reduce the chances of injury. Kailin Collins, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, has concluded that core strength is immediately related to balance because you need good stability in your core to have safe and effective movement at the hip, knee and ankle.2 You shouldn’t wait for problems with your balance to present themselves before you consider core strength training. Instead, you can work to prevent them through gentle stretching and strengthening exercises.
Balance can help to strengthen your muscles, which will in turn increase their power output. The greater the force your muscles can exert, the further you will be able to jump, the faster you will be able to run and the higher you will be able to leap. In any sport or activity where powerful short, sharp movements are needed, such as boxing for example, good balance will be a great help.
In older adults, and women with a low bone mass in particular, balance has been shown in studies to help decrease the risk of falls and improve postural stability.3 Further studies have also shown that balance training seems to prevent falls and injuries in seniors, with a report published by the BMJ concluding that exercise programmes reduced falls that caused injuries by 37%, falls leading to serious injuries by 43% and broken bones by 61%.4
What are the best exercises for improving balance?
Gentle strength and stretching exercises such as yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi, as well as coordination-focused exercises like dance, are all excellent for helping to improve your balance. There are also ways to work on your balance that don’t even require leaving your house and some of the best exercises for improving balance require little more than patience and commitment of getting in a habit. You might try standing on one leg while brushing your teeth for example, which may sound easy, but you’ll soon find that your legs start to sway. Remember to switch legs each day so that both sides of your body get to experience the benefits. Alternatively, you could stand for one minute on the left leg, and then one minute on the right leg.
Sitting and standing up is something else you may take for granted but try doing so without using your hands to help stabilise you. You’ll be activating a whole new set of muscles that you wouldn’t normally use for this and will probably find it more difficult than you expected!
Walking is something else that you might think is just ‘something you do’, but even walking in a different way can help with balance training. Practice heel-to-toe walking, where you act like a tightrope walker by placing one foot directly in front of the other on an imaginary line or try walking backwards in a straight line (making sure there’s nothing in your way first of course!).
These common, everyday actions are some of the best to remind your of the importance of balance, and to help keep you in great condition, with excellent balance for as long as possible.