Do you find yourself using handrails on stairs, leaning against walls, resting on the back of your chair or counter tops? As we age, we start to use subconscious balance
“cheats”. These cheats, however, can in fact encourage instabilities by weakening the system.
To achieve balance, our brain processes information received from our inner ear, our sense of touch, and our vision. Information collected through these three receptive pathways is sent, via the central nervous system, to the motor system which responds with appropriate movements needed to carry out activities. Our feet are among the most nerve-rich parts of our body. This fact alone should demonstrate the importance of touch to walking and the benefit of going bare foot when you can. When standing and walking, the sole of your foot is the only part of your body connected to the ground. Sensory information from the foot is used by the brain to make subtle adjustments to protect bones and joints all the way up your body. Shoes can impair biofeedback and ankle and foot strengthening properties that are important for balance. The feedback from your feet and joints to your brain is the reason that you can step off a curb, and within milliseconds your brain has both received the essential information and performed the sophisticated computation needed to help you readjust to stay balanced.
Normally balance control is accomplished automatically without conscious thought. Our balance is compromised when we are tired and therefore, there is a higher probability of falling at the end of the day when ankle, knee and hip muscles are also fatigued. So, be extra cautious at night if you are prone to losing your balance.
Often, we are not fully aware that we may have weak balance until we try some balance exercises. Balance exercises should be done every day or more often if you’d like. Performing balancing exercises improves neuromuscular coordination by getting the brain to talk to the muscles. Balance is divided into two types static and dynamic. It is important to start with the easier static exercises before progressing. Static balance has very little movement. A great static exercise is to stand at a countertop and lift one foot. Now try to lift one hand away from the countertop and then the other. Next, see if you can let your hands hover over the countertop. Try to hold this position for thirty seconds before switching feet.
We can challenge the visual aspect of balance by closing our eyes for a few seconds. Next try turning your head side to side as you balance.
Walking the Line
Heel to toe walking is a great way to challenge your balance. Start by holding onto a secure surface and pretend you are on a balance beam. The beam can be as wide as you like. Make certain you are challenged but safe. First shift your weight front foot to back foot. Next try taking a step forward and a step back.
Be certain to move slowly and safely. It’s easy to incorporate balance hacks into our everyday life such as standing on one foot while brushing your teeth or walk heel to toe in the hallway where there is a wall on each side for support. Try to add a little balance to your day, every day!