6 Simple Ways to Improve Your Balance (Part 1)

Flickr anthonyleungkc

Image Flickr anthonyleungkc
Have you started telling yourself “My balance isn’t what it used to be”? Change your perception and outcomes with these 6 simple strategies.

One of the favourite comments of people when they get to their 50’s is “my balance isn’t what it used to be”. But is that actually true? You may have overbalanced just as often in your 20’s, 30’s and 40’s but didn’t acknowledge it as important.

I tripped over a log at work the other day while jogging and went down in a cloud of dust and incredulity. Boy, can’t remember the last time I actually hit the ground was my first thought. And then I started to think more closely about this first reaction. In fact I’ve tripped over the dogs, the kids and at other random times these last few decades…like any other top heavy human. So maybe the first critical admonition that sprang into my head of being so clumsy at the ripe old age of 42 is uncalled for?

Can you see what you’re doing to ruin your balance?

Of course it got me thinking about how often I hear middle aged people criticize their balance-abilities and that in 99% of cases I can see clearly why their balance could be compromised on a daily basis, if thinking it alone wasn’t enough.

It’s a slippery slope balance. As babies we developed a very accurate sense of upright(thanks to bruises on the forehead) due to the need to manage a bowling ball on top of our spine.

But as our neck/shoulder strength grew and as we copied the movement habits of our parents all manner of unbalanced coordination was woven into our way of doing things. Not until our 50’s-60’s did we even query a fall or trip, preferring to scold ourselves for being clumsy or awkward in some way.

A couple of falls or close calls will have us making different choices such as leaning against walls to get dressed, looking for chairs to put our socks on, looking down at our feet as we walk and reducing the activities that we believe to be challenging our balance the most…all choices that allow our balance to deteriorate even more.

This is my list of things that I know you are telling yourself or doing with yourself daily that are perpetuating your perception of bad balance plus some suggestions as to how to wind the clock back.

1. Getting on the floor

As we age the ground seems to become more of an enemy than a necessary part of our lives, in fact the only time we end up on the floor is if we’ve fallen over. No wonder we begin to fear Mother Earth. A fall confirms to that little voice in our head that we must be getting worse in the balance department. However looking back throughout our lives will reveal that we have fallen at every age…in all sorts of circumstances. I catch my foot on steps every now and then and thank my reflexive reach out that saves me…or my existing balance that self corrects in the blink of an eye. Bumping my toe or foot on the side of a pathway happens often, it’s the inherent risk associated with walking upright… as all us humans do.

It’s the fear of not being able to get back up again that builds an invisible barrier between us and the ground and the one way to disprove this assumption is to get on the ground often. Many an octogenarian has assured me that it is impossible for them to get back up off the ground only to be amazed that doing it like a baby actually works well despite arthritis and inflexibility.

Solution to fear of floor: get on it daily.

2. Looking down

Picture a healthy 7 year old with scraped knuckles, bruised shins and knobbly scabbed knees. We were all there once, but did the repetitive falls and accidents result in us developing a stoop so that we could watch every single step meet the ground?

No, this is the domain of the aged adult who is trying to prevent the inevitable from happening. They are oblivious to the fundamental imbalance in the upright human of holding a bowling ball weight down and forward to the rest of their body. A baby isn’t this dumb, so why does the adult show such a lack of IQ?

Looking down so that you can see every step is contributing to your balance perceptions. With this much forward load at the top of the structure the slightest trip now is magnified. You are enhancing the problem you are trying to avoid by looking down.

Solution to tripping over: look down with your eyes and head (*from the occiput*) not your head and neck.

3. Leaning against a wall to get dressed

This came up just this week. A fit, active and healthy 63yr old admitted that despite all of his pro-activity is peeved whenever he gets fitted for clothing and a chair isn’t supplied so that he can get dressed. I raised my eyebrows as this is a man who looks the picture of health and is doing more than the average 30yr old to ensure he remains mobile well into his later years.

Balance is his achilles heel that will undo everything he’s working towards.

As we looked at the mechanics of bending down to the ground it became immediately apparent that he only minimally engages his glutes and hamstrings when bending, instead favouring his herculean back to carry the load. This habit increases the amount of effort required to bend throughout the entire extrinsic musculature of his torso—from the neck to the sacrum. It also places much of the responsibility of load-bearing balance into the thighs, knees(by the way “not as reliable these days”) and front of the feet.

Failing to hinge at the hip sockets has this ox-strong man engaging all the wrong systems and therefore overloading his spine, joints and balance receptors with tension.

Does the african woman carrying a huge load of belongings on her head look like she’s applying a lot of effort to balance?

Try to balance on one leg by tightening every muscle in your body and you’ll realise the idiocy of this fear-based strategy and yet the perception of a decline in balance is correlated 100% with tighter, tenser bodies.

You have to be free in the joints to empower balance, not locked up.

Solution to getting dressed with balance: bend at the hip joints with a lengthened back.

Click here for Part 2

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