Why Balance Training Matters
We don’t necessarily think about it, but balance training is of primordial importance. Working on our balance is recommended as we are getting older to help prevent falls which can further lead to things such as hip fractures. Working on our balance is also helpful when we practice a sport like running, swimming, or cycling. And if this isn’t enough to convince you how beneficial balance training can be, it turns out that balance training can help improve memory too!
What Helps You Maintain Your Balance
Three sensory systems allow you to control your balance (along with the cognitive system and the musculoskeletal system): the vestibular system, the somatosensory system, and the visual system.
In Beyond Training, Ben Greenfield defines these three sensory systems:
- Vestibular system – the sense organs in your head, primarily your ears, which regulate equilibrium and give you directional information as it relates to your head position.
- Somatosensory system – the nerves called proprioceptors in your joints, along with the pressure and vibratory sense information in both your skin and your joints.
- Visual system – the ability of your eyes to figure out where your head and body are in space, and also where you are relative to other objects.
9 Training Strategies to Work on Your Balance
The following are different strategies suggested in the same book listed above.
To help better your vestibular balance, you can:
- Go barefoot as much as possible, or use minimalist footwear. Neuroscientist Dr. Michael Merzenich said: “I have invested in shoes that help me feel the ground beneath my feet better. I don’t want every step I take to be predictable.”
- Balance on one leg while keeping your gaze on something stationary. You can practice the one-leg standing exercise for 30 seconds as a first goal (“without having to put your other foot down for balance”), then aim at 60 seconds. Then try with the eyes closed. In that case, it is helpful to mentally picture something stationary. I like to stand on one leg with my eyes closed for 60 seconds on a regular basis. It’s important to keep practicing. Every day may be needed at first. Also, make sure you engage the core muscles and the glutes, and grip with the toes. Have something nearby you can hold on to at the beginning, just in case. This exercise is beneficial to the brain cells in your cerebellum and inner ear-vestibular system. Yoga is also great to work on your balance skills – try the tree pose!
- Look for things to stand on wherever you are, like narrow ridges, sidewalks, or posts.
To help better your somatosensory balance, you can:
- Stand one-legged or two-legged on unstable surfaces like wobble boards, thick balance mats, or balance disc pillows.
- Use an unstable mat under your desk. I like to use a thick balance mat, engaging the core muscles and glutes.
- Use a mini-trampoline, great for practicing single-leg stances.
- Stand on one leg on a raised height, like a balance beam or a plyometric jump box.
To help better your visual balance, you can:
- Play a sport that requires eye tracking, like soccer, golf, tennis, basketball, and ping-pong.
- Do vision drills – exercises to help strengthen the 6 eye muscles and boost your visual-acuity skills, using, for instance, the Z-Health Vision Gym. I do those regularly too, as mentioned in a previous post.
These are 9 balance training strategies that can help make a big difference over time. Being that I am now 50 years old, I see working on my balance as something essential to do for the rest of my life. Which strategy will you pick first?
Until next time!
Chiu, Titus. BrainSave : The 6-Week Plan to Heal Your Brain from Concussion, Brain Injuries & Trauma without Drugs or Surgery. Middletown, De, The Modern Brain, 2018, pp. 105–6.
Dunsky, Ayelet. “The Effect of Balance and Coordination Exercises on Quality of Life in Older Adults: A Mini-Review.” Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 11:318. 15 Nov. 2019, http://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnagi.2019.00318/full. Accessed 23 Aug. 2020.
Greenfield, Ben. Beyond Training : Mastering Endurance, Health and Life. Victory Belt, Las Vegas, 2014, pp. 137–45.
Merzenich, Michael M. Soft-Wired : How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life. San Francisco, Parnassus Publishing, Ltd, 2013, p. 228.
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