The ability to balance is not a heavenly gift but a skill that we have to work on constantly to prevent falls, walk steady and feel more secure with reach and grab activities. Balance and coordination exercises are just as important as your cardio work-out as they strengthen your legs and core muscles while activating quick reaction times, preventing disastrous falls . There are medical reasons for poor balance including inner ear infections, vertigo, nerve damage, medication side effects and even wearing the wrong glasses prescription. Aging is associated with poor balance but wait, this process starts around age 25!
Our bodies receive key information from our eyes, ears and joints that rapidly process messages to our brains leading to muscle reactions that actually stop us from tumbling over. Sedentary activity leads to poor balance and it’s a vicious cycle. Sit more, get up, feel unsteady, lose confidence, sit more. The ABC (Activity Balance Confidence) scale is a great way to assess your balance by scoring your confidence in completing everyday activities.
Why do we lose our ability to Balance?
- Alcohol can affect our cerebellum and make us feel tipsy but long term use causes damage to the brain and effects our balance even when we haven’t had a drink. The good news is that after 18 months of no alcohol, there is recovery of steady gait and balance.
- If we don’t use it, we lose it. Poor fitness levels and sedentary activity cause muscle weakness in our legs and our abdominal muscles. We actually have to challenge our balance to train it.
- Diabetes is a common cause of neuropathy (nerve damage) affecting the feet and legs. If your sugars run high you might find that you have trouble feeling where your feet are and this can lead to poor balance and falls.
- Visual or hearing impairment can affect our perceptions and sense of space leading to poor balance.
- If you are experiencing dizziness, vertigo (room spinning), loss of sensation and/or have had a few falls, check in with your health care practitioner before starting any balance exercises.
It’s never too late to start a Balancing Act
- Yoga and Tai-chi are good examples of intentional balance training
- Do the Flamingo! Stand on one leg for 3-5 seconds, anywhere, anytime
- Put on a pair of long pants while standing and do it very slowly
- Practice sitting down and getting up from a chair without using your hands or the arm rest
- Play catch with a frisbee or beach ball but only one legged
- Try a wobble board while you are talking on the phone.
- Walk along uneven ground especially in sandals or bare feet
- Practice walking heel to toe, like on a tightrope, but also raise your hands above your head and clap and repeat as you walk