In our previous blog Falls risk, Balance and Power, we discussed the importance of balance training in preventing falls in the elderly population. Today, we will look closer at our balance system, the importance of balance training across the lifespan and focus on health conditions or fitness goals that can really benefit from specific balance exercises.
How does the Balance System Work?
The balance system works through a continuous communication network between our eyes, ears, muscles, joints and brain. Our eyes provide visual information about our surroundings while our ears (vestibular system) provide information about the position of our head. Our muscles and joints contain specialised receptors which communicate information about movement and the position of our body in relation to our environment. The Cerebellum in the brain interprets this information and sends a feedback message to our muscles and joints which then make the adjustments required to maintain our balance.
When the body experiences a disruption to any component of this system, we find it harder to balance, sometimes experience dizziness and may even fall.
What Health Conditions can affect my Balance?
Health conditions or injuries that affect the eyes, ears, nerves, muscles and joints will often have an impact on the way the balance system functions.
Conditions such as Osteoarthritis, Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia and Peripheral Neuropathy can all impact on the balance system and therefore can benefit from specific training exercises that aim to improve stability, function and strength.
Balance after Injury
Injuries to muscles such as strains or joints such as a sprained ligament in the ankle or a rupture of an ACL in the knee will significantly impact on joint stability and balance.
Balance training is often a critical component of rehabilitation after significant injury and our ability to demonstrate proprioception and balance is often a good indication of a complete recovery. It is also an imperative part in reducing risk of re-injury or long-term complications such as chronic joint instability.
Who else Can Balance Training Help?
Balance training as part of an exercise program is very important for the elderly population. Conditions such as Osteoporosis and general frailty are highly indicated for balance training. Functional balance exercises form an important part of falls risk reduction, improvement in activities of daily living (ADL’s) and therefore overall independence.
Training our balance system is also important for our “apparently healthy” population and athletes. For these individuals balance training can help improve coordination and agility. In sports that require jumping, pivoting, dodging and landing such as netball or basketball, balance training can assist with joint stability, proprioception and help an athlete to practice sport specific skills. It is also again very important for injury prevention and long-term durability in sport or physical activity.
How can I improve my Balance?
Much like cardio training and resistance training, work on a progressive overload principle, the balance system also needs to be continually challenged in order to be improved. Balance exercises need to be challenging in order to improve the feedback process discussed earlier. When we are training and wobble or lose balance our brain takes this feedback from our receptors in order to improve the process next time we try to balance.
Balance exercises should include a range of static (standing still) exercises such as balancing on one leg and dynamic (on the move) exercises and should be as functional as possible. This means that they should relate to different situations that you might experience in day-to-day life or your sport. For example, getting in and out of a chair confidently or being able to jump and land quickly in a game.
Balance exercises can also be incorporated into other components of training. For example, walking lunges are a great strengthening exercise that also challenge dynamic balance.
Most importantly balance exercises need to be performed safely and be suitable to your ability and needs.
Is Balance Training For me?
There are so many important elements to exercise and training including cardio, resistance training, stretching and mobility exercises. It can therefore be hard to justify or prioritise the inclusion of balance exercises into a session. At Longevity we believe in creating holistic exercise programs that challenge and therefore improve all of our body systems. Therefore, our team of Exercise Physiologists at Edgecliff, Lindfield, Marrickville and Randwick take the time to understand your health history, injury or condition and prescribe the most appropriate exercise modalities as treatment.
If you feel as though you may benefit from balance training, would love to learn some new challenging exercises for your work out or would just like to find out more, Call Longevity on 1300 964 002.
Written by Ashleigh Mead