Balancing Act

balancing-act training

If you were to take a poll of the most important aspects of training to include when working out, you would undoubtedly hear two things mentioned repeatedly from the majority of people; strength training and cardio. While I’m not disagreeing, as I too feel that they are both of equal importance, I am saying that something has been forgotten by the majority of fitness fanatics and gym goers. That one thing? Balance training.

When it comes to everyday life, balancing is the one thing that happens almost continually. Have you ever thought about it? Walking, running, taking the stairs up or down, getting in or out of a car, stepping on uneven surfaces (like sidewalks or grassy areas of  your local park for example), bending down, twisting around and even carrying in the groceries are all movements and motions that require balance. Yet the amount of people who include balance training in their regular workouts are minimal.

Subconsciously, we rely on several different sources of feedback from places throughout our body in order to maintain balance. Information sent from the inner ear, our eyesight, our touch and our muscle sensors are organized in the central nervous system where it is  determined which muscles need to be activated, or deactivated, in order to keep us from falling. This complex process, your body’s ability to interpret and use information about your position in space, is called proprioception. Big word huh?

Balance, like lean muscle mass and cardiovascular fitness, is a “use it or lose it” deal and in addition to that already depressing news is the fact that as we age, balance  slowly but surely fades. Most of us don’t even think twice about getting up from our chair to answer the  phone, taking a message and then walking back over to our chair to sit down  and continue reading our book. I’m betting you don’t have fear well up inside you at the thought of taking out the trash,  washing the car, replacing a light bulb or even going up and down the stairs. Why is that? Because in doing the many activities I listed, you’ve never fallen. However, as we age and the balance we have taken for granted for so long begins to disappear, everyday activities become a gamble. Many people who fall, even if they are not injured, develop a fear of falling which  causes them to limit their activities, leading to reduced mobility and loss of physical fitness, which in turn actually increases their actual risk of falling.

According to the CDC, one out of every three adults aged 65 or older will fall, most of which suffer some kind of injury. Falls among those 65 or older often result in a fracture, the most common of which are those of the spine, hip, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm, and hand. In 2009, 2.2 million older adults were treated in an emergency department for a nonfatal fall injury  and more than 581,000 of these patients were hospitalized. By 2020, the annual direct and indirect cost of fall injuries among adults age 65 and older is expected to reach $60.2 billion.

So, how do you know if your balance is A-OK or lacking? Here’s a quick test anyone can perform on themselves that will give you an eye opening view on where you stand in the balancing department. Stand up and imagine you’re going to walk forward in a straight line. Place one foot directly in front of the other so that the heel of your front foot touches the toes of your back foot. Keep both feet flat on the floor. Hold that position and close your eyes. If you can maintain your balance for 30 seconds, you have pretty good balance, but if you are wobbling around just as soon as you close your eyes, or even before, your balance is poor.

So what can you  do to keep your balance and prevent yourself from becoming a statistic? There are actually quite a few things you can do!   Start by balancing on one foot (I have my clients do this by a railing for the first few times in case they need to catch themselves) for 30 seconds at a time. When you’ve mastered that, move it up to 45 seconds, and then on to a minute. Another one that  doesn’t require any equipment is to begin balancing on one foot, and then switch  feet every 5 seconds or so. When you can balance for 5 seconds, move up to  10, then 15, then 20…you get the idea. Once you have improved using your own body weight, grab some dumbbells.

Another easy way to include balance training is to incorporate balancing on one foot into your “regular routine”. Try doing your bicep curls, shoulder presses, tricep presses and lunges with one foot up. Another thing I have found that works extremely well for improving balance is suspension training (like TRX). However you decide to include balance training in your workouts should reflect your current fitness level and abilities. If you have any questions as to what you may or may not be capable of, it never hurts to ask.

Happy balancing!! 🙂

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