How many times have you sat down in a chair, stepped up from the pavement onto the grass or reached above your head for a glass in a cupboard? Chances are you do most of these activities without even thinking about them, however whilst you may not be thinking about these things, your brain is actually going crazy making sure that your body is perfectly balanced so you don’t fall.
So how does balance work?
Try this, stand on one leg and time how long you stay still for? Now close your eyes and see how long you can hold that position? Why the difference? Well balance is reliant on a number of different systems and they all have to be working in harmony to prevent you from falling over.
Your brain relies on input from your sensory system (touch, vision and inner ear motion sensors) to receive signals about the environment. If one of those inputs is removed, for example vision, then all the other systems have to work over time to try and provide the brain with the same amount of information. The strength of our muscles and joints also have a big impact on our balance as they need to work hard to co ordinate all the movements required to keep us upright!
So why then does balance decline as we get older?
Well the short answer is it doesn’t necessarily! Many healthy older people have very good balance and conversely many younger people struggle. It just has to with the overall health of the individual. Conditions like Diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, stroke or a history of ear infections, serious sprains and fractures may all contribute to a loss of balance. However sometimes the onset on balance problems may be very subtle and you might not realise that your balance is not what it used to be until you fall!
So now for the good news – Balance can be improved!
However it is very much a case of use it or lose it. In order for your balance to get better you need to be challenging it on a daily basis. Things like standing on one leg while brushing your teeth or walking heel to toe (like on a tightrope) down your hall are examples of how you can improve your balance. Pilates is another great way of improving balance as it improves the strength of your muscles, stability of your joints and challenges your proprioception. All of which contribute to keeping you vertical!