Staying upright is a critical skill for wellness. It sounds so basic, so obvious, that we often don’t consider that we need to maintain and improve this ability. Good balance decreases the chances of falling, which is something we all want.
An added benefit is that working on balance skills helps keep you more nimble in general. This isn’t only about not falling down. Being more nimble, more able to move through your environment with ease, will help decrease the chances of other annoying and painful injuries like muscle strains and sprains.
Winter feels like a particularly good time to address balance, since it’s a season of icy, slippery, unpredictable surfaces. But really, paying attention to balance is important for any season, be it a season of the year, or a season of life.
Finding Balance: It’s Important at Every Age
Working on balance is a big focus for people who are getting older. And to be fair, for seniors, fall prevention is really important. Unfortunately, statistics show that 25 percent of people 65 and over will experience a fall.
Falling is directly linked to losing independence and losing the ability to do activities you enjoy. Being unable to get up after a fall can be a serious issue especially if you’re alone and need help.
But enough of the scary stuff because the great news is, this is preventable. Or at least there are ways to improve, at any age. The sooner you get to it, the easier it will be, and the better you’ll move through the world today and tomorrow.
Good balance helps build body and movement confidence, and that's something we all benefit from.
Key Components of Developing Good Balance
The idea of balance is pretty straightforward: being able to maintain an upright position. Or, put another way, the ability to not lose control of your body and experience a fall. There are a few key factors that help maintain or improve good balance:
Foot and ankle strength and mobility
General body flexibility
Good full-body range of motion
That may look like a lot to work on, but chances are that if you have a movement routine or are athletic, you’re already working on at least some of these elements. Also, addressing these key factors will help improve how you feel and how you move, and when you experience those improvements, it’ll fuel motivation.
As with any improvements to wellness, your best strategy is consistent efforts over time.
An Action Plan
You’re ready and excited to work on balance. Great. Now what?
Working with a personal trainer who can assess where you’re at and prescribe the exercises that will address your specific strengths and weaknesses is always a great choice. This will save you from doing all the legwork yourself and it will streamline the process.
Working with a trained professional can also help steer you away from unnecessary exercises that may worsen your problems. A lot of what contributes to poor balance is unhealthy movement patterns or postures. If you choose exercises that reinforce your bad habits, well, that’s wasted effort and may just make things worse.
Alright, obviously we believe strongly in the benefits of working with a personal trainer: it’s what we do. However, there are ways to help improve balance on your own.
Pilates and Yoga
An easy go-to is working yoga or Pilates into your life. Even taking a class once a week will help your body move better. These practices touch on just about every element in the bulleted list above. They are simply excellent full-body wellness practices that will benefit you in day-to-day life as well as any athletic pursuits. And they will help your balance.
Foot and Ankle Wellness
Getting a little more specific, it’s very helpful to address your foot and ankle wellness. We abuse our feet: we cram them into shoes that squish and misshape them. We rarely walk barefoot (which helps return your feet to their healthiest state). We ignore flexibility and strength in our feet.
Your feet are your base, your foundation. They are the primary touchpoint between you and the earth. And your ankles are the pivot points between your feet and the rest of your body: these small, intricate structures at the bottom of your legs are critical to keeping you upright. Ankle flexibility directly impacts how freely you move.
Our Western living habits contribute to poor ankle flexibility: elevated chairs, sofas, and beds mean that we rarely utilize the full range of motion our ankles are capable of (raised furniture also isn’t great for our hips, but that’s another blog post entirely). It is very helpful to incorporate full range of ankle motion movements into your daily life, like getting up and down from the floor, as well as squatting, among other movements.
When you improve the wellness of your feet and ankles, your balance will follow suit.
This feels like a good place to mention Katy Bowman’s idea of “nutritious movement” because she touches on many of the consequences our modern living habits have on our bodies and how we move, or don't.
In a short video on the topic, nutritious movement is described as "movement that includes all of the right bends and squishes at the right amount for all of your parts to work optimally." And of course, when all your body parts are working optimally, you'll have better balance.
Of course, you can simply practice your balance to help improve your balance. Basic balance activities like standing on one leg or maintaining a staggered stance—feet hip-width apart, with one foot slightly ahead and one slightly behind, and arms crossed over the chest so that hands touch opposite shoulders. To increase the difficulty of the basic stances, the next step is to do them with eyes closed. It’s always surprising how much more challenging this is.
As balance improves, you can move on to activities like navigating obstacle courses that feature uneven, narrow, or unstable surfaces. Or do parts of your exercise routine on a balance board or stability equipment.
A Final Note About “Body Awareness”
Body awareness was one of the key elements listed in the bulleted list, and I want to make sure that idea is clear. What does it even mean?
Body awareness simply means that you have a sense of how you’re moving your body, that you are tuned in to what’s working well and what’s not. Working on balance requires a lot of attention to small movements and subtle control. It's an excellent time to slow down and listen to your body.
The more tuned in you are, the more aware you are, the better you can be at making the best choices for your health and wellness. Developing balance is an opportunity to better understand how your body moves, from the inside out.