I think that intuitively we already know that balance is important. After all, we have to be able to reach in different directions, get through an exercise class without falling over, or even just walk up and down stairs.
Beyond that, do we really spend much time thinking or caring about it? Probably not. And, fair enough. It’s just not that interesting.
But now, I am going to attempt to peak your interest.
How about some little known facts?
- Balance is a skill that utilizes your eyes, ears, and proprioception (more on that later).
- It can be improved pretty quickly with practice.
- Balance actually relies on your core more that you might realize.
- As with exercise, balance works out better if you warm up first.
- Good balance can make exercise more enjoyable and therefore keep you coming back for more.
- Good balance can help you burn more calories when you exercise (got your attention on that one, right?)
- Good balance helps you be more coordinated.
- Training isolated muscles (using machines at the gym) is not going to help you at all with balance, coordination, or falls. Getting stronger is good, but motor control and organizational skills are required for good balance.
Here’s a short physiology lesson. Muscles that help you with balance are down deep, close to your joints. Joints need to be stabilized during movement to let you be more coordinated, and to protect your joints from injury. In addition, these muscles and their tendons have lots and lots of ways to let you know what’s going on as you move, and where you are in your environment (that’s proprioception). In other words, when you have better balance, your movements can become more coordinated because joints are protected and then the rest of your muscles can become more efficient at moving you around.
If you should happen to have a strong core, or take a minute to activate your abs before a balance endeavor, you will have better results. When the muscles around the spine and core activate but do not move, it allows your feet and ankles to make more adjustments. This trains balance.
Finally, the calorie thing. There is always a part of walking (unless you shuffle), when you are actually just on one leg. This can become more integrated with your knees and hips if your balance is better. Then you feel more confident. You will feel more like walking and it will feel good. This translates to more walking, more speed, and ultimately more calories burned. Not a magic bullet, but it helps.
There are lots of ways to train balance, but here is one thing you can do that is quick, easy, and kills two birds with one stone:
Stand up near a wall or chair in case you start to lose your balance, but don’t hang on unless you need to. Pick up one foot and put it either in front or behind. Do ankle circles with this suspended leg, 10 times each way. Then do the other foot. Voila! You have been balancing with one leg AND waking up the proprioceptors in the other ankle. Notice that in a matter of minutes you have done something that can bring more fitness into your life.
Sexy? Well, maybe not. But at least it’s getting there….
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