This is not about working up a very boring circus act. Balance is a vital part of everyday life. It’s a classic example of your body and brain working in tandem … or falling out of sync (literally). Your static balance is how you maintain control while standing in place (imagine standing on a balance beam), while dynamic balance, or coordination, is the control you have as you move (imagine sticking a landing after a dismount).
The Brain and Balance
The part of the brain affecting balance is the cerebellum. It controls balance, movement and coordination and ensures you can stand upright, walk around and maintain your balance doing it. Various neurological diseases can affect balance, as can inner ear infections and viruses. For some people, this might present as dizziness or vertigo. It may require medical intervention.
When you’re young, balance is probably not something you think about consciously. But, better balance often translates to better sports performance and fewer injuries, more adventurous activities and definitely no problem taking steps two at a time – up or down. Training for dynamic balance is often part of high-performance sports regimes, especially for rehabilitation after injury to test ankle, knee and hip strength and movement. Flexibility and agility are closely related to balance.
Age and Health affects on Dynamic Balance
For older people though, balance problems are very real and are the major cause of falls and their consequences. Walking aids are widely used to compensate for lack of balance. Factors affecting balance as you age include changes to eyesight, decreased strength and various ailments that lead to a general lack of confidence and awareness. Fluctuations in blood pressure are a major cause of dizziness and loss of balance. Uneven paths and steps are an obvious physical challenge for people with poor balance. Commonly prescribed medicines, such as sedatives, antidepressants, cardiac medications, pain killers and diuretics can also induce balance problems as a side effect.
Proprioception and Balance
For most of us, the unconscious notion of balance – walking, getting around and multitasking while doing it (think running to the net in tennis to execute a volley) – is down to what is called proprioception. This is an innate sense of self, where you are and what you’re doing without necessarily needing visual cues or a singular focus (eg. you don’t stop to think about left foot or right foot or how your wrist angles the racquet). Proprioception links the body and the brain, with the body’s central nervous system responding with muscles, tendons, and ligaments to create ‘reflex’ actions.
Hearing and Hearing Structures and Balance
The role of the ear and hearing structures are easy to overlook, especially in young, ambitious future athletes, on the road to improving dynamic balance. A hearing problem or vestibular deficit may hold you back. That karate pose may be within reach after all! Get yourself checked out by a specialist Audiologist. More..
Ways to improve Dynamic Balance
You can train and practice for better balance. Strength and agility might be the aim in your youth, while better balance can reduce the risk of falls as you age. There are various static and dynamic balance exercises to asses and improve your balance, many of which you can do at home.
- A simple test is to stand, then lift one leg. Do this with eyes open, then eyes shut. Then change legs
- A variation is stand on one leg, then use your arms as if a clock, change the time through 3, 6 and 9
- Another variation is to swing the lifted leg, forward, back or to the side
- Do a simple stand on one leg when at the bathroom mirror – teeth is safer than shave (and not makeup) if you wobble
- Practice getting into and out of a chair without using your hands
- The tightrope test is to walk a straight line, heel to toe, left following right, watching, not watching
- A tougher test might be to add a squat
- For more dynamic testing, the use of a balance board or rollers is popular
If you have concerns about the cause of your balance problem see your doctor, or if you want help with an appropriate exercise or rehabilitation regime, start at your local gym or consider seeing a mobility professional or sports physiotherapist.