The most obvious benefit anyone will get from doing balance exercises is that you improve your balance and so fall over and bang into door frames and other obstacles less. We spend more time running around without black eyes and broken hips.
Naturally, when we think about Balance and balance exercises we think of older adults, of our senior relations, but balance training exercises can be beneficial in many more ways than just good balance.
And the benefits of good balance are not just confined to the elderly. Balance training improves elements of a person’s health and fitness goals that some may find surprising.
We’ll go into the many more benefits of balance and of balancing exercises shortly.
You don’t need to have poor balance before thinking about doing balance exercises but most people do. What causes the inability to maintain balance as we age?
Briefly Understanding the Inexorable Decline
Surprisingly (or maybe not) the health of our body peaks around 30 years of age and then, with the right treatment is okay for 5 or 10 years but the dye has been cast.
Muscle mass and bone density start deteriorating after 30 followed later by areas like cognitive function, eyesight, blood flow and basically anything to do with cells and genes. Oh, that’s everything!
There is a very complex system that I like to call the “where the f*&^ am I” system.
It’s made up of the vestibular system, itself a complex interconnection of the brain, mechanics of the inner ear and the eyes allowing us to know our place in Space.
Throughout the body there is a complex sensation called proprioception, often called the 6th sense which, working with the vestibular system understands the body’s dynamic so where an arm or leg is and how fast it’s punching or kicking. Know our place in Time and Space.
The Benefits of Balance Exercises
The benefits of having good balance is a slightly different subject and should also become more apparent than it already is when we go through the list of the benefits of balance exercises.
For anybody worried about their current state of balance and which includes related symptoms like dizziness, vertigo, unsteadiness, etc. please consult with your medical practitioner.
Regaining Lost Balance
Balance training benefit number one – you can regain the balance you once had which means the daily activities of life are no longer a chore.
The more you perform balance exercises the better you will become. Like all things, it takes practice. In another article, we have covered some easy and more difficult balance exercises.
Practicing your balancing can be done at any time or wherever it suits you.
If you’re trying your moves outside make sure you have got suitable shoes.
Preventing Falls & Related Injuries
The headline benefit of maintaining balance is to prevent falls which can lead to injury and for older adults this can be serious.
3 million older people in the US are hospitalized each year due to injuries from falls. You don’t like to think in terms of money, but in 2015 the medical cost was $50 billion.
Although the need for balance training still applies to a senior citizen let us move away from images of grandma doddering around to an athlete in her prime.
For an athlete like a running back the body position is all important and great balance is key. Football coaches know that incorporating balance training into their fitness exercise regime is important.
Physical activity like balance exercises that involve dynamic positions and multiple body parts will instill better coordination.
As mentioned earlier there is a system called proprioception which, simply put, means body awareness. In fact, there are other mechanisms, kinesthesia, and neuromuscular control, that interplay and allow us to understand where any part is, what force is being applied and how to react, without us ever having to think about the mechanics.
Slow purposeful movements as practiced doing yoga or tai chi emphasize the function of these systems. Practicing this type of balance exercise helps to increase self-awareness.
As mentioned before, losing your balance as you age is a consequence of the deteriorating factors that occur through the passing of the years – although we believe the decline can be slowed down enormously – and strength is one of those factors.
It’s surprising how simple balance drills will strengthen not only the major muscles but as importantly, the smaller stabilizer muscles responsible for tweaking the body into the right position.
I like to incorporate into my daily routine something that will test my improving balance. Having had muscular problems with one foot in the past I like to stand on one leg and bend over with the other leg raised up behind me.
Doing this allows me to feel the tiny stabilizer muscles in my foot constantly adjusting to correct my position.
Balance exercises will also improve the larger muscles but we and others would recommend doing more intense exercises to strengthen leg muscles and core muscles.
Better Joint Stability
Joints and older people – hey, no need to tell me! A regular balance exercise that gets your body parts moving will help with the overall health of your joints. Strong joints that are stable will mean fewer injuries.
Balance exercise will activate many muscles including the core and torso. It takes core strength to create a better posture.
Good posture is proper “form” in everyday life which means you will avoid falls and prevent injuries.
Prevent Back Pain
With any exercise that strengthens the core and the other muscles that support the back, there is a great chance that back pain will be avoided or vanquished.
Strong abdominal muscles will take the strain, release pressure from the lower back and allow you to move – remembering correct posture – with less or no pain.
Here’s another better balance benefit that not only helps us older people but is relevant to younger people or even athletes. Who doesn’t want to be able to coordinate our movement with more speed and precision?
When you perform balance training that involves static and dynamic positions you get better at holding your ground.
Conversely, you can make quick transitions which in many sports is a winning attribute.
Apart from all the physical benefits of balance exercises being able to go about normal everyday activities with your head in the air – both literal and metaphorical – will bring a huge boost to anyone’s confidence and self-esteem.
Better Cognitive Function
Some studies show evidence that those who practice balance exercises as well as other forms of activity are more spatially aware and have better short-term memory than those older adults who do the “right” thing but only concern themselves with cardiovascular exercises or resistance training.
As we discussed earlier the brain is heavily involved in the mechanics of the body in space and time. The brain micromanages all the nuances of our balanced life.
Regular balance training only helps in improving these neural activities.
Improves reaction time
It may come as no surprise that reaction to time stimuli is another on the list of declining attributes when it comes to aging. The decline is due to the brain’s processing of the reaction and not the physical response.
With a combination of exercising the brain and muscles using balance drills, improvements can be made in reacting to sudden and unexpected events – like a step suddenly appearing as you walk.
A lot of testing of reaction times in adults from 18 to 80 is often done using games. Electronic game playing for older adults can be a good additional way of getting faster reaction times.
Improved Injury Recovery
A benefit for anyone now who plays any sport or has suffered any injuries, especially in the ankle, foot and lower leg. The best form of balance training in this case is where strength training is combined.
Studies have been showing a prevalence of using balance drills with sportsmen and women to avoid injuries.
Improved Techniques For Other Training
This is something that I’ve found myself. Practice balance training and the ability to train in other areas get a boost. Again, something like tai chi or yoga would be ideal and would apply to the young and old.
Better Health Overall
Whether it’s cardio, strength or balance training there is no doubt that long-term health will substantially be improved as long as it’s done regularly and with purpose. And for anyone over 50, there is a wealth of benefits. Check out our article on fitness over 50.
How To Improve Balance
You can do most balance exercises without any equipment. I would recommend starting out carefully. Find out what your level of balance is first. If you feel unsure it’s always handy to have a chair or countertop nearby.
Try a static pose like standing on one foot with a knee raised. Or walk in a straight line heel to toe and see how steady you feel.
We have some balance exercises here to get you started.
There are a number of pieces of equipment to make balance training more challenging but more fun too. Check out the balance board, stability ball and the bosu ball.
These are fun things that don’t take up much space and you can practice balancing on whilst watching tv.
Improving your balance through exercise helps you perform everyday activities more efficiently. You can stand, walk or even run up and down stairs with confidence but without a wobble.
As we have shown incorporating balance training exercises into a moderate schedule of fitness activities keeps on giving in terms of mental and physical benefits.