Like breathing, balancing is something we depend upon and our bodies do it without us even noticing, until something goes wrong. But balance isn’t something we’re either good at or not. Like any other musculoskeletal activity that we deal with at Petersfield Physiotherapy, it’s something you can maintain and improve with the right exercises, especially as you get older. So, for balance awareness week, I’d like to take a look at this important element to physical health.
Why is balance important?
Keeping a healthy balance system is crucial for your mobility and wellbeing. Having good balance is vital for maintaining a strong postural alignment, which is why balance becomes increasingly important as we get older and back, neck and shoulder pains can become more frequent. Poorer balance is also a key contributor to suffering falls. According to Age UK’s 2017 report, Later Life in the UK, falls are the largest cause of emergency hospital admissions for older people, with around 220,000 falls-related emergency hospital admissions in England of patients aged 65 and older. In 2015, nearly 65,000 people over the age of 60 suffered hip fractures in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Balance problems caused by injury
Of course, joint balance, or proprioception, isn’t just a problem for the elderly. It can also be lost following an injury such as a sprained ankle, which leads to the ankle becoming weak and more prone to new sprains. That’s why proprioception/balance exercises following a lower limb injury are essential to prevent recurring injuries. So, clients of any age can benefit from regular balance training and exercise, allowing you to move more freely and confidently with more strength and energy.
How does the body maintain its balance?
A number of complex systems contribute to your body’s ability to balance. The system for controlling balance, and the one we’re probably most aware of because it gets taught in schools, is the vestibular system – basically, your inner ear. Fluid and hairs inside your ear canals detect your movement and orientation, sending the information to the brain. Vision and touch also play an important role in monitoring balance. To actually maintain your body relies on good core muscle strength to support your spine, which is why it is so important to exercise your core regularly. This is where your physiotherapist can give you the best exercises to build up core strength in the most efficient way.
How do I improve my balance (some exercises that will help)?
There are many easy ways in which to improve your own balance, whether it’s by joining a class activity or adding some balance exercises to your daily routine. The ancient Chinese practice of Tai Chi has been found to improve balance as its slow, controlled movements strengthen the body. Holding poses also allows you to practice balancing. As an added bonus, Tai Chi also focuses the mind and leaves you feeling calm and refreshed. However, if it’s not really your thing, here are a number of regular exercises to improve your balance rapidly:
  • Sideways walking
Stand with your feet together and knees slightly bent. Step sideways slowly and shift your weight onto the foot you’re stepping on to. Bring your other foot in to meet it. Repeat this.
  • One leg stand
It sounds simple but standing on one leg for 15-20 seconds (per leg) can really help with your balance. It’s so easy to do and you can do it just about anywhere. I often do it while I’m brushing my teeth.
  • Weight shift
This exercise is similar to the one leg stand but instead you start with your weight evenly distributed across both feet. Slowly shift your weight to the right side and lift your left leg. You then shift your weight back to the centre and repeat for the other side.
Don’t neglect your balance
We’re always being told to keep all the different parts of our body as healthy as possible but balance seems to get forgotten, which is why it is so important to start regular balance training exercises to improve and maintain your balance. Maintaining your core strength and sense of balance isn’t just something for young, active sportspeople. Don’t forget to exercise your sense of balance – it’s never too late to start. If you have problems with your balance or would like to know more about how you can improve your overall balance, mobility and strength, please contact us at Petersfield Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic or ring us on 01730 267645. We’d love to help.