• The Importance of Balance

    Originally published for Body Zone Sports and Wellness Complex on August 20, 2013

    Balance plummets with age, right? Try telling that to our 70- and 80-year-old members who are busy doing single-leg squats!

    Explaining how this is possible begins with a little bit of simple science. Improving balance requires better neuromuscular communication; we often think of balance as a muscular activity, but remember that everything the muscles do starts with a signal from the brain. The next piece of this puzzle is the core. Our core is not just our abs; it’s a group of 36 muscles in the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (a.k.a. the muscles throughout the stomach, back, and hips). In order to maintain balance, our brain sends out the message to our muscles, and if our body is going to respond properly, it needs a strong core to receive that message and act as our anchor. This is what we need to retrain.

    Try standing on a single leg right now (point your toes straight forward and keep your chest “proud”). If you feel your ankle wobbling, you are trying to use your leg to balance, when our focus should be on the core. Now try again, contracting (tightening up) your glutes and abs (draw in and brace your stomach as if you were about to receive a blow). This should feel more stable and is the point where your training should start. By starting slowly and following a structured, progressive plan, you too could one day be 80+ years old and doing those single leg squats with perfect form and complete stabilization. It is impressive and fun to watch, but it isn’t a miracle; it’s simply being committed to effective training.

    Improved balance can easily create a higher quality of life: decreasing your risk of injury, improving your joint health, and allowing you to more safely participate in and enjoy your favorite hobbies. Now is the time to take simple steps to ensure that you enjoy your life fully, no matter what age you are at.

    Don’t let age create a limitation that may just exist in your mind but does not reflect your physical capacity. The human body is amazing. A little knowledge goes a long way in restoring its natural abilities. If you are trying to figure out a safe way to get started on a balance program, consider attending one of our Older Adult Group Exercise Classes, which offer many options and are led by an incredibly knowledgeable and experienced team of instructors. No matter what path you take, make sure you start slowly and create a solid foundation that you can safely build upon (and that you have the okay from your doctor).

    One final point on balance training is that everyone will progress at a different rate. Balance is a dynamic process – you are either getting better at it or you are getting worse. So even maintaining your current ability level and preventing a decline is a victory. Take time to celebrate every step forward. Whether it’s a big step or a small one, you invested in your health and fitness, and it paid off. That’s always something worth celebrating!

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