Balance. We all seek it; balance in life, balance in our diet, work-life balance... But what about balance in terms of proprioception. Maybe you’ve heard this word, maybe not but, balance, namely proprioception, is crucial for your longevity. Proprioception, in its simplest terms, is the body’s ability to interpret and use information about your position in space. Through a complex system of environmental feedback (cues from the bottom of your feet, the relation of your inner ear to gravity, and what you see) your body senses which muscles to activate or deactivate to maintain your desired position. Another word for this? Balance.
Balance (in terms of spacial awareness) is something most of us take for granted. All those years we spent NOT working our balance and making our core work have led to misalignments and imbalances in the body caused by overcompensation by favoring one side of the body; and most of the time we have no idea that we have neglected our poor core muscles. A major issue in today’s society that is affecting our balance is SITTING…human bodies are NOT meant to sit all day! Our core turns to mush and forgets how to work, preventing our hip flexors and legs to function as they should when we want to stand or move on our own. Without addressing these issues, our bodies are in for injuries and serious issues down the road!
This is why balance training is so crucial, and why I include it in every single class that I teach (if you have been to any of my classes you know we work BALANCE!). Balance and stability are extremely vital to our overall health. Balance is needed for functional tasks we perform day to day, like climbing stairs, lifting a bag of groceries or standing from a chair. We don’t think about using balance to complete these tasks, but we would definitely think about it if we didn’t have it. Perhaps we think of balance (or lack thereof) only being an issue for the elderly. But it isn’t just for the elderly to worry about; while falls are the number one injury of the elderly, balance is just as important to a teenager, a professional athlete, and a middle aged adult.
Balance training (exercises that require you to balance; think of single leg deadlifts, lifting a weight overhead while balancing on one leg, single leg exercises, etc) is important for all ages and ability levels. It helps build kinesthetic awareness and body control, while requiring you to use your core, asking it to stay strong to keep you safe. Balance helps the elderly man stay upright and helps the endurance athlete run harder, bike longer, or swim stronger. Through balance training, you will reap benefits like better posture, core strength, athleticism, stronger bones, better brain function, and coordination. These products of balance training result in fewer injuries and greater stability as you age. Let’s be real: getting old sucks. Part of the aging process includes gradual loss of muscle strength, vision, sensory perception, and hearing- all things that contribute to our ability to balance! So why not use the strength and ability you have now to stay strong and keep this aging process at bay.
My fitness and dance career gave me a decent appreciation for balance, but it wasn’t until my father’s health started to decline due to muscular dystrophy that I really understood the importance of it. Fall after fall, trip after trip to the ER, I had a revelation: balance isn’t just important, it is key to a QUALITY life! While there were obviously other factors compromising his health, I saw that as he became weaker and was no longer able to work with a PT on balance and coordination, other issues evolved: slowing brain function, coordination issues, slower reaction times, and ultimately a very weak center of gravity. Balance is vital to improving all of this, and not just those with degenerative diseases.
Balance training is designed to challenge your balance and proprioception, developing stability, as you practice moving freely in all directions to strengthen your core, your legs, and those tiny stabilizer muscles we don’t often use. Incorporate these exercises (or variations of these) each time your workout to keep a stronghold on your balance and age with ease.