Balance is something we often take for granted. We often don’t have to think too much about staying upright throughout the day, but we know that this becomes a challenge for many individuals as they age.
We don’t have to wait until we’re having problems with balance to start working on it, but we first have to understand how we stay balanced.
Your balance relies on what you FEEL
Our body's awareness of movement and position is called “proprioception”.
How does the ground feel underneath your feet? Does it feel like your knee is positioned over your foot? Are your hips shifted to one side of your body more than the other?
Lack of proprioception = lack of body awareness, and if we don’t know where our limbs are or how our bodies are positioned, it becomes very difficult to balance and stay upright.
Here’s an example of how impairment of proprioception can influence our balance. Consider a person with fairly progressed diabetes. One of the common symptoms is diabetic neuropathy, a dysfunction in the peripheral nerves related to chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and mitochondrial dysfunction.
Neuropathy often affects the distal portions of limbs first, impairing circulation, sensory awareness, and motor function. Many individuals also experience numbness, tingling, pain, or have no sensation at all.
Now consider how difficult it can be to stay upright if you cannot feel the ground beneath you.
A lack of proprioceptive awareness doesn’t only happen with diabetes. If our bodies do not regularly challenge our proprioception, then we will also lose the ability to feel the ground over time.
How can we work on this?
Get your daily dose of “Vitamin T(exture)”!
That’s right! Kick off those shoes and walk on a variety of surfaces every day. Walk barefoot in the grass, on the pavement, on the carpet, tiles, river rocks, or even acupressure standing mats. Personally, I stand on a Naboso ® Standing Mat.
Your Ears and Eyes do more than Hearing and Seeing!
We’ve all spun around in circles as a kid then immediately stopped. The result is a major disorienting sensation, feeling “dizzy”. After a few seconds of rest, we eventually restore our sense of equilibrium. For this, we have our vestibular system to thank.
The vestibular system is a small structure in the inner ear that sends sensory information about motion, head position, and spatial orientation, to us.
Our eyes, on the other hand, help us stay balanced by providing us with a static frame of reference. This is called the “visual system” and it explains why it’s so much harder to stand upright with your eyes closed. Give it a try!
Training your Ears and Eyes
To train your vestibular and visual systems, we have to make it challenging for our bodies by distorting our usual orientation.
One way I like to practice this is to stand on a wobble board. A wobble board is an unstable training tool that you can use to challenge your balance. The boards usually consist of a platform to stand on and a smaller rounded base so that it makes it challenging to stand upright.
Other activities that can improve your balance:
Skiing and snowboarding
Another simple way to improve your balance is to practice balance drills with your eyes closed, removing an entire system contributing to balance.
Start by standing on both feet with your eyes closed, progress to one foot, eventually practicing it in safe environments like on a small balance beam.
Happy balancing everyone!