Most of us have been told at some point in our lives that we would benefit from working on our balance. But what does it really mean to “work on your balance”? And why does balance matter in the first place? Let’s answer a few of these questions so you can understand why having good balance is really an essential part of improving your quality of life.
Good balance is the foundational building block that allows us to control our movement. Without good balance, it is difficult to stay still and it is difficult to move and react to the environment around you. Having good balance allows you to move freely and to function independently. Unfortunately, as you age or if you have a medical condition such as having had a stroke, your balance will decline. And as your balance declines, you are at a much higher risk for falling and having complications secondary to that fall.
What are all the factors that affect your balance?
One of the main factors that influences your balance is the aging process itself. As we age, we lose muscle mass and our reflexive reactions that keep us upright slow down making it more challenging to react efficiently when our balance is caught off guard. Other factors that change with aging are our eyesight and posture. Without good eyesight and with posture that already has you leaning towards the ground, it becomes much easier to fall without proactively addressing these issues.
Another big factor that influences your balance is if you have medical conditions such as a stroke
One condition that will significantly impact your ability to balance is having had a stroke. After a stroke, you often lose some voluntary control of your muscles and movement, which can make it very challenging to stay upright. Other medical conditions that can influence your balance are inner ear disorders as your inner ear helps your body to understand where your head is located relative to your environment and which direction you are moving. If you have a loss of hearing or nerve damage (commonly known as neuropathy), you will also experience changes in your balance. And it is important to note if you tend to have low blood pressure your balance may also suffer as a result because low blood pressure can make you feel lightheaded and faint.
Those who are less physically active tend to have worse balance
There are some lifestyle factors that you can control which will either positively or negatively influence your balance. Consuming alcohol will worsen your balance and place you at a risk for falling. Another factor you have control over is your physical activity levels. Those who are less physically active tend to have worse balance and are also more likely to develop one of the medical conditions we discussed above. Perhaps a modifiable factor when it comes to your balance that you had not thought about was your living space. When it comes to your living space, you want to make sure your home is clutter-free so you have fewer obstacles to navigate and fewer things to potentially trip over. You will also want to assure the lighting in your living space is adequate as you will balance better if you can clearly see where you are going.
Fear of falling itself increases your risk of falling
Research studies have also looked at factors that influence your balance and risk for falling. The research demonstrates that a fear of falling itself increases your risk of falling and often results in less physical activity as you are afraid of falling when participating in physical activity. In addition to fear placing you at a greater risk for falling, we also know from the research that your balance declines when you are distracted. This distraction could be in the form of cognitive stress such as worrying or stressing over time or the distraction may be in the form of dual-tasking such as walking and talking on your phone at the same time.
How to improve your balance
If you will dedicate at least 3 days a week to improving your balance, you can see improvements
Here’s the good news: you can improve your balance. A research study found that people who participated in a balance training program or an exercise program that included balance exercises reduced their risk of falling and improved their general mobility. These study participants did these programs three times a week with the duration of the classes lasting about 45-50 minutes. This indicates that if you will dedicate at least 3 days a week to improving your balance, you can see improvements.
Now you may be asking what type of exercises you should be doing to improve your balance. First, you need to make sure you are doing balance exercises that are actually challenging for you and that emphasize improved stability in either standing or sitting depending on your current abilities. The exercises should work on both static balance (the ability to stay still without loss of balance) and dynamic balance (your ability to react and balance when moving). Your balance exercises should also challenge your inner ear and eye balance systems because your eyes and inner ear are working constantly to keep you balanced. You can challenge these systems by moving your head while doing the exercise or by changing your sight during the exercises such as by closing your eyes.
Make sure you are continuously challenging yourself
What is particularly essential when it comes to improving your balance is to make sure you are continuously challenging yourself. This means as an exercise or activity becomes easy, you need to change something about the exercise or activity to make sure it is hard enough for you. You can do this in several ways. One way is to change the intensity of the exercise by making it more vigorous. Another option would be to do the activity for longer. You can also try a different type of exercise all together because it may be more challenging for you to switch it up. Another option to make things more challenging for yourself would be to increase the frequency at which you do the exercises, so if you are doing it three times a week you could begin doing the program four to five times a week.
At TRCare, we have many resources to help you “work on your balance” and develop a balance training program that addresses the key points we discussed in this article to make sure you can successfully improve your balance over the long term.
Learn more about what you can do to improve your balance and step-by-step video guidance on how to build a home exercise program for you, explore TRCare's online exercise portal today!