According to Mayoclinic.com; “Balance exercises can help you maintain your balance – and confidence – at any age. Balance exercises can also help prevent falls and improve your coordination.
For older adults, balance exercises can promote independence. Nearly any activity that keeps you on your feet and moving, such as walking, can help you maintain good balance.
You can also include balance exercises in your daily routine. Try balancing on one foot while waiting in line, or stand up and sit down without using your hands. For a more targeted approach, try specific balance exercises. If you have severe balance problems or an orthopedic condition, get your doctor’s approval before performing balance exercises.” (2), Webster’s Online Dictionary.com defines balance as; “stability produced by even distribution of weight on each side of the vertical axis.” As in good weight distribution on both feet, with core strength, for we humans.
From the National Institute On Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: What is a balance disorder?
A balance disorder is a condition that makes you feel unsteady or dizzy, as if you are moving, spinning, or floating, even though you are standing still or lying down. Balance disorders can be caused by certain health conditions, medications, or a problem in the inner ear or the brain. Our sense of balance is primarily controlled by a maze-like structure in our inner ear called the labyrinth, which is made of bone and soft tissue. At one end of the labyrinth is an intricate system of loops and pouches called the semicircular canals and the otolithic organs, which help us maintain our balance.
At the other end is a snail-shaped organ called the cochlea, which enables us to hear. The medical term for all of the parts of the inner ear involved with balance is the vestibular system.3
The Harvard Health Letter, August 2006, list some medical conditions which can adversley affect balance;
1. Neurological conditions, Parkinsons disease, multiple scelorisis, and stroke.
2. Diabetes. Nerve damage in the feet can make it difficult to walk.
3. Vertigo. The sensation of dizziness from ear disorders or from aging of the iner ear.
4. Postural hypertension. A drop in blood pressure when you sit up or stand causing light headiness or fainting.
5. Foot problems. Corns, bunions or hammertoes.
6. Eye disease. Cataracts, and glaucoma. Balance almost always improves with cataract surgery.
7. Medication sensitivity leading to any number of balance problems if not taken correctly.4
From Health.com; Kinesthetic awareness, or the ability to know where your body parts are in 3-dimensional space, is required for every movement we make.5 It’s not surprising that balance can be learned, challenged, and improved.
We can train our bodies to improve the proprioception(the sense that indicates whether the body is moving with the required effort, as well as where the various parts of the body are located in relation to each other), within muscles just by creating balance challenges for ourselves.6 I have trained thousands of clients with balance work and am happy to report they all benefited from it!
Probably the best example of this is my current client, Charlie, who was kind enough to let me use him as a glowing example of what balance drills can do for any of us to improve the quality of our exercise and lifestyle.
I met Charlie about three months ago here in Galveston, TX. He was referred to me by another client. His story goes like this; May 4, 2009 – Went to primary care to discuss dizziness and lack of coordination with left arm and leg. May 20, 2009 – Had MRI to rule out brain tumor. Doctors thought his issue was vertigo at that time.
- June 5, 2009 – Met with his doctor to find out he had a mass in his left cerebellum affecting coordination and balance.
- June 15, 2009 – He met with a Neurosurgeon at M D Anderson in Houston, TX to discuss tumor and possible options.
- July 1, 2009 – Had a 10-hour surgery to remove ping-pong ball sized tumor from his brain found with MRI. Fortunately the tumor was benign!
After surgery, Charlie used a walker for six weeks and then a cane for another six weeks. There was also five weeks of rehab to regain mobility and sufficient balance to return to daily living activities. Charlie says, “Through exercise my balance is slowing returning to a level where I feel more confident in daily activities.”
Charlie is the proud dad of a 6-month old daughter who keeps him on his toes, also. As Charlie’s Master Fitness Trainer, I have the good fortune of getting to train with this man twice a week. Not only does he amaze me he’s an inspiration!
A typical workout for Charlie is stretching, 35 minutes of weight training (at which he is very strong), core exercises to strengthen him and intensive cross training of Bosu ball training, rope jumping, speed bag work and Muy Thai punches. That’s right, punches into my padded mitts!
Charlie’s punching power and accuracy improve every time we work out. Why? Because as Charlie told me, “I practice at home.” Charlie wants his balance and coordination back so badly he practices at home! You have to truly admire him!
I challenge each of you to improve your balance, strengthen your core and turn up your work out intensity a notch or two. Get off both feet and tighten your core. Balance can be improved the more we work on it! Not only does good balance benefit your exercise program, it contributes to improved movement functions at home, work or play.
None of us are getting any younger and with that comes the natural effects of gravity on our bodies. Simple exercise and balance improvements will keep you more balanced and confident. Balance training is hard work, folks, so let’s not try and kid any of you reading this article.
You will sweat and use every supporting muscle group in your body at times. The sweat literally runs off Charlie’s chin he works so hard! If Charlie can do it … so can the rest of us.
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4. Harvard Health letter, August 2006
About the Author
Bill McGinnis is an NFPT-certified Master Fitness Trainer, and trains exclusively at the University of Texas Medical Branch Alumni Field House on Galveston Island, TX. He has over 24 years in the Fitness Industry, including work as the Men’s Fitness Trainer at the Betty Ford Center and as a Fitness Manager in Southern California. He currently specializes in training older clients for balance, strength, endurance, golf, tennis and an improved quality of life.