Ballerinas, tight rope walkers, ice skaters… they seem to have such poise and a natural balance that most of us dont possess. But I want to share a secret with you today… That balance comes from lots and lots of practice. Which shows us that while our balance can worsen with age and different conditions that we cant avoid, it can also improve with practice.
WHAT IS BALANCE?
For one to stay upright, 3 things need to happen:
- Your sensory system accurately portraying information on your body’s position in its environment – Hearing, vision and touch (such as our feet on the floor).
- Your brain processing that information – Neurons and sensory receptors in the brain (i.e. making decisions).
- Your muscles and joints coordinating movement based on the information your brain gives them – Being able to contract and relax your muscles to move how you want to.
These 3 factors are usually an automatic process for our body, and so when we feel our balance worsening, we need to explore which of these steps are not working how they should be. Generally, balance is caused by a variety of factors, so we need to know what these factors can be and work to correct them.
So what are some of the things to be aware of?
- Chronic conditions, such as Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis.
- Poly pharmacy (taking 4 or more medications).
- Hearing Problems (hearing loss, infection, vertigo).
- Vision Problems (poor sight, macular degeneration, cataracts) .
- Low Blood Pressure or Low Blood Sugar.
- Nerve problems.
- Muscle Weakness.
For example, if our brain is not receiving good signals from the eyes, ears and skin, it will affect the information our brain has to work with. So it is important to get glasses and/or hearing aids if function has deteriorated. Or if we have a disease that affects the brain this may compromise motor function and movement, and so we will need to make sure our sensory input and muscle output are stronger to compensate. If our muscles and joints are too weak to carry out the messages they receive, it will be beneficial to stretch and strengthen our muscles to ensure they can adequately respond to the information they are receiving.
With balance, it is a case of practice makes perfect. If you are challenging your muscles in a controlled environment and encouraging them to be aware and responsive to the brain’s messages, your body will respond quickly and efficiently to keep you upright and stable. As a result you have better control, stability and essentially balance.
Our challenge for you this month is to find time to exercise. Many of us do not prioritise exercise, and we suffer as a result. The benefit of exercise on health and balance is very well known; let’s make May a month of finding the balance – not only physical!