Everyone knows about strength, endurance and flexibility. They are essential to any workout plan. A quick Google search will return hundreds and hundreds of workouts and plans to help you improve in these areas. However, balance is equally as important and yet all too often overlooked. When you think about it, balance is something in which we constantly rely on. We use balance with each step we take. We use it when we change walking surfaces, when we walk up and down stairs or ramps. We use it to keep us upright. Balance is more important today than ever before. The posture we have when texting on our cell phones has shifted our center of gravity and oriented our sight lines away from our surroundings and toward a screen. Improving your posture can not only prevent falls, it can improve your fitness. The majority of the time, our bodies regulate our balance without us even thinking about it. But it isn't as simple as you might expect. Balance is complex and made up of three main components: vision, muscle and joints, and the vestibular system. Here's the breakdown: Vision: The eyes provide us with input regarding our surroundings and this helps us correct our positions as needed. Vision also helps us to keep track of the speed and direction of our movements. As an experiment, try walking through sand with your eyes closed. It is incredibly challenging! Muscle & Joints: Our musculoskeletal system is able to sense position, that is, where our body is in space. Usually, we find our balance by making small adjustments in our foot, ankle and hips. Again, give this a test drive by standing on one foot while barefoot. It won't take you long to notice how hard your foot is working to hold you up. Vestibular System: Made up of very specific structures, this system can be found in the inner ear. It transmits information about body position to the brain. If you've ever had a really severe ear infection, you may have experienced a loss of balance as a result. These three systems are combined to give the brain the information it needs to direct body movements in order to maintain balance. If one system is compromised in any way, it must rely on the other two. In order to improve your balance, it is important to:
- Maintain a good range of motion in the joints and work on muscle flexibility.
- Build muscle strength. It is very important to develop strength in your core muscles like the abdominals, glutes and back muscles.
- Correct vision issues.
- Practice. If you challenge your balance, you will improve your balance.