1. Improves proprioception. Proprioception is your brain's awareness of where your body is in relation to itself (e.g. your knee relative to your ankle) and your body in relation to its environment (e.g. it will behave differently on a stable vs. an unstable surface. Essentially, balance training can help to improve the communication between your brain and your body (neuromuscular coordination). Training this connection can help your body to learn more complex movements in the future. So, if you are looking to learn a new sport skill, training a related balance skill can help you progress to that specific sport skill more quickly and more efficiently.
2. Increases stabilization. To have what one might consider "good" balance, you must be able to stabilize specific muscles or groups of muscles. For example, standing on one leg can actually be a very complex group of stabilizing muscle movements. To do this, the muscles around your ankle must be stable so as not to roll over, causing you to lose balance. The quads and hamstrings must work to stabilize the knee joint as well as the hip joint, and your core muscles (abdominals, back and glute muscles) work to stabilize your trunk and pelvis. So standing on one foot may seem like a simple movement, but there is actually a lot happening! As you work on increasing these stabilizer muscles through balance exercises, this stabilization can be transferable to better posture. The core, thigh, lower leg and ankle muscles need to work together during the standing on one foot exercise, and also need to be active while standing with good posture. Improving your posture can do wonders for some of the aches and pains that may be have developed while "slumping" over your computer, phone or other tech gadgets, pulling the body out of its natural alignment.
3. Fall prevention. As we age, falls may become more of a concern. Balance exercises can help combat this concern. Balance exercises themselves can be very gentle - anyone can do them! They are also easy to practice at home. Along with the above mentioned ways that balance can help to improve your functional movement, practicing balancing may mean you will be less likely to fall should you get tripped up as it can help you to regain your upright posture or correct yourself after a stumble. Practice makes perfect!
Balance exercises can be as simple as practicing standing on one foot. While doing so, make sure you are focusing on stabilizing your core, thigh, lower leg and ankle muscles. Use your arms for balance or stand near a wall or counter so you can catch yourself if needed. Start for just a few seconds and gradually increase your time as you feel you're getting better.
To make this exercise more difficult, try standing on a pillow or other soft, uneven surface. Try wearing shoes or going barefoot and see which feels more difficult for you. For a really tough challenge, try squatting on one leg (make sure your knee or hip don't collapse inward or outward!)
If you are feeling like you are a pro at balance exercises, try doing them while shaking your head back and forth, looking at 4 alternating points of a room, or while closing your eyes (make sure you have something nearby to catch yourself on if you try closing your eyes!). Does it feel much more difficult? This is because part of balance system is within the inner ear (vestibular system), and part is visual. While moving your head, you are disrupting your vestibular system, making it more difficult for your brain to tell where the rest of your body is. While closing your eyes, you are taking away the visual reference your brain has to see where your body is in space. These systems work together and contribute to balance as well.
If you are interested in improving your balance and learning some cool new exercises to add to your routine, give us a call to make an appointment with one of our fantastic physiotherapists!
Cambie Village: 604-566-9716
Burnaby Heights: 604-298-4878