Balance is something often taken for granted until it is gone. Whether you suffer from a sudden physical injury or simply notice that things you used to do are getting harder over time, losing your balance can affect your quality of life. In some cases, it can even shorten your life.
Do you know that balance typically peaks in our 20s, starts to decline in our 30s, and then rapidly declines starting in our 60s? While these statistics are alarming, the good news is that improving your balance is possible. Depending on what’s causing your balance problems, the solution can be as simple as integrating a handful of exercises into your lifestyle wellness habits.
What are the Components of Balance?
Several systems contribute to our ability to balance. Our visual system processes what we see so that the brain can plan each movement. Our proprioceptive system uses input from the environment to help us understand where our joints and body are positioned in space. Our vestibular system is located in our ears and helps deliver information to the brain about motion, head position, and spatial orientation.
In addition to these 3 systems, the mobility and stability of our neck, trunk, pelvis, hips, legs, ankles and feet all contribute to our ability to move in a coordinated, efficient and balanced manner.
An Essential Part of Your Fitness Plan
Balance training is just as important as cardiovascular and strength training, both for injury prevention and sustaining our ability to do the things we want to do every day. This type of fitness training has also been shown to improve cognitive function as we age.
Some benefits of balance training include:
· Reduced risk of sprains, especially ankle sprains
· Reduced risk of falls
· Improved cognitive function
· Enhanced athletic performance and agility
How can PT help with Balance?
When you’ve had an orthopedic injury, suffered a concussion, undergone cancer treatment, or are experiencing a neurological issue that affects one of the systems that create balance, physical therapy should be part of the management and recovery process.
A qualified physical therapist will assess your balance using various tools, like a balance assessment, neurological exam, vestibular exam, oculomotor exam, movement screen, neuromuscular testing protocol, and/or positional testing protocol.
Based on this assessment, they will then create a plan of care to improve your balance using a combination of manual therapies, specialized exercises and lifestyle modifications, that target the source of your problem. Essentially, these interventions help retrain your visual, proprioceptive and/or vestibular systems. They also work on your posture, breathing and underlying muscle control for regaining pain-free joint mobility and stability.
How Does Exercise Help with Balance?
Whether you want to improve your agility for your athletic endeavors or simply feel confident about your ability to get your shoes and socks on without sitting down, balance training is an important component of any exercise program for people of all ages.
A 2015 study found that people in their mid-20s could meaningfully improve their balance with 3-6 balance training sessions of 4 exercises for 11-12 weeks. This might sound like a lot, but the four exercises were found to take a total of only 10 minutes per session.
Activcore’s Performance Training Methods
Each of Activcore’s Performance training methods has specific benefits and can play a foundational role in helping improve balance.
Pilates is particularly well known for its core strength benefits. In addition to its focus on strengthening the muscle groups that make up the core, Pilates also includes opportunities to work on unstable surfaces and on one leg, both of which are important components of a balance training plan.
The Gyrotonic Expansion System® has two distinct branches: Gyrotonic® and Gyrokinesis®. Both of these can help with developing balance.
In Gyrotonic® sessions, our Performance Specialists guide you through movement on weight-and-pulley-based equipment that emphasizes improving strength in the muscles of the core, the hip, and the back of the leg, all of which are critically important for balance.
In Gyrokinesis® classes, clients move through choreographed movements on a chair and on a mat that emphasize three-dimensional movement, stimulating the vestibular system while improving proprioception and coordination. Standing exercises on both systems deliberately focus on improving balance.
Redcord suspension helps to strengthen and improve the neuromuscular system by applying instability in a “zero-gravity” environment. Being suspended like this helps your brain figure out how to develop better stability. The offload provided by Redcord equipment also provides support for working on both unilateral (one sided) and bilateral (two sided) stability exercises.
Finally, our team uses strength and conditioning tools like Kettlebells to help develop the hip and leg strength needed for balance across your lifespan.
We work with you in the studio and/or virtually to help you build your balance using one or more of these performance training systems. We can also design a home program for you – and keep you accountable for executing on it.
So Where Do You Start?
If you know you want to work on your balance, determining where to start depends on your current condition. For instance, if you suffered an illness or injury that has affected your balance, get started with one of our physical therapists. They will assess and target the underlying issues affecting your balance.
If you are interested in developing a fitness routine that builds your balance, schedule an appointment in-person or virtually with one of our performance specialists. This program can be done during or after a course of physical therapy care.
Finally, if you want an in-depth assessment of your full-body strength and mobility, including a comprehensive evaluation of your balance and a written report to use as your training baseline, book a “Wellness Physical” with one of our physical therapists.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.