I have been conducting a large number of balance assessments the past few weeks, and evaluating a person’s balance is a terrific way to reveal weaknesses, not to mention whether or not they have a sense of humor. Balance deteriorates as we age and can be elusive if our minds are scattered. Children tend to have excellent balance, often peaking as young adults in their 20s and then declining from there — unless you regularly challenge it. Good balance is a combination of strong feet and ankles, good core muscle strength and a well activated nervous system.
If you are curious about how strong your balance is, you can do your own balance assessment by standing with your feet close together and then closing your eyes — you may want to have the wall handy for support in case you find yourself tipping. By closing our eyes we remove the visual cues that tell us where our body is in space; once the visual cues are removed you are dependent upon the sensors in your muscles to maintain balance, and that is the information that I am looking for in an assessment. If standing with your two feet together with eyes closed was easy for you, then try this: find your balance on one foot and close your eyes. If you don’t wobble and tip, you’re a balance expert!
As we age and falls become a concern, training your balance becomes critical. Most exercise classes should include some sort of balance moves, but if they don’t you may want to suggest to your instructor that adding this component might be a good idea. You don’t have to rely on others to train your balance: when you’re washing dishes or brushing your teeth, stand on one foot, find your balance with your eyes open and then try closing them for a moment or two. This practice will strengthen the muscles of your feet and ankles, and by closing your eyes you deprive the brain of visual input forcing the sensors, or proprioceptors, in your muscles to reignite. If you try some of these balance exercises, email me and let me know how you do!
Virginia Eaton is the owner of Class: The Body Pastiche