A loss of physical balance is something that seems to gradually creep up on each one of as we grow older, with a sudden realisation that balance is no longer what it once was! This becomes a concern when one realizes that we still need to walk on uneven pavements, get in and out of cars, showers and buildings and transfer our weight from one foot to the other whilst going about our daily activities.
This need not happen. Of course, as our bodies naturally age, so do all the balance receptors in our bodies. Our ears are one of the balance receptors. The fluid in our ears tells us where we are in space and especially which side is upright. With age the liquid within our ear canals gets less fluid and so it affects our balance. Other parts of our bodies help with balance as well. We have tiny proprioceptors in our feet which are constantly giving our body feedback about our balance. Standing on two feet is easy but our gait (walking) is done one foot at a time. Going up or down a flight of stairs is also done one foot at a time. It is essential that we maintain sufficient strength and tone in our bodies to help us keep our balance in order to avoid falling.
One of the main areas to focus on is posture. Poor posture will throw off one’s centre of gravity which in turn affects one’s ability to balance. Strengthening the abdominal and back muscles makes a profound difference. Pilates exercises are specifically geared to strengthen these muscles in the correct way. It is not just good enough to do 20 sit-ups. Abdominal and back exercises need to be done correctly and under supervision as it is so easy to do them incorrectly and thereby exasperate the problem.
Other areas to concentrate on are the muscles of the legs. This should include strengthening the muscles in the feet, calves, upper legs and hips. It is also important to do exercises on each leg individually. Simply standing on one leg for a count of at least 10 seconds and working up to 30 seconds can be beneficial. Standing up on one’s toes and then down again is another good exercise to try. Do this first while standing on both legs and then standing on one leg. If one is using a wall for support, remember that the wall will not be there if one stumbles or loses one’s balance. It is best to practice these exercises under supervision so that one can be sure that one is doing these exercises correctly. This will also allow for progressions to be added at the appropriate time as one’s balance improves. A pilates instructor will ensure that one is using the correct muscles for each prescribed exercise.
Building good balance requires building a balanced body. This involves not only strengthening the abdominals and leg muscles but also the rest of the body. Weakness in the upper body will also lead to problems with balance.
Although it will help to some degree to start with the exercises in this article, it is best to attend a pilates class, initially privately and then in a group. Classes are designed to provide strength and flexibility to the entire body so that there is a balance between left and right sides as well as upper and lower body and the front and back. A balanced workout will lead to a balanced body better able to cope with being thrown off balance when conducting our day to day activities.
Remember a balanced body will lead to a balanced mind.
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