Working on your balance probably isn’t an integral part of your everyday life, but I’m prepared to make the case that it should be. The benefits for improved balance range from a reduced risk of injury to improving intelligence and even potentially increasing one’s life span. With that in mind, here are my five reasons to work on improving your balance, as well as some ideas on how to get started.
Balance for Injury Prevention
Improving your balance has shown a lot of promise in being able to prevent injuries for a wide range of people. For athletes, balance work is associated with a dramatically lower risk of injury. Just one sprained ankle can alter your season and will predispose you to future ankle sprains for life, but regular balance work can decrease your risk of a sprain by nearly 40%. For the elderly, improved balance could prevent a fall, which is the cause of over 90% of all hip fractures–one of people’s most life-altering (and shortening) injuries. I think it’s pretty obvious that the potential benefits of working on your balance will greatly outweigh the small time investment on your part.
Balance Goes Beyond your Legs
When you work on your balance, you’re concurrently firing a multitude of muscles from your head to your toes. Challenging your muscle groups to work together in ways that they haven’t had to before can lead to improved control of muscle groups that may have been dormant from years of sitting and leaning. Learning (or re-learning) how to use your muscles synergistically can improve your posture and strength, which can have several health benefits including a reduced chance of getting arthritis, back pain, or other health issues.
Improved balance and muscle group coordination will naturally increase your body’s ability to control itself during challenging tasks. For athletes, this means improved agility, quicker reaction times, and improved overall performance. For non-athletes, it could mean being able to forgo use of a cane for short periods of time or being able to safely walk on grass in the park instead of having to stick to sidewalks.
Balance May Make You Smarter
Balancing has been proven to have cognitive benefits. One study showed that when balance training was incorporated into the program of elderly women with complaints of memory problems and confusion, their cognitive function improved significantly. This study suggests that challenging the areas of our brain responsible for balance can actually have benefits on the brain as a whole.
You have No Excuse
Barring a non-weight-bearing status from a physician, there is pretty much no reason you can’t work on your balance. There is no necessary equipment involved, and it can be scaled to challenge anyone from professional athlete to a senior citizen. If you feel you can’t find the time to commit, incorporate balance work into your daily routine – balancing while brushing your teeth, waiting in line, or while reading at work.
How to Start
Getting started is pretty simple. For those with poor balance, you can begin by balancing on both legs with a stable surface like a kitchen counter for support. You could then progress your balance program by relying less on your support, placing your feet closer together, closing your eyes, then eventually balancing on one leg. I usually recommend balancing for periods of 30 seconds to a minute and repeating that 3 to 5 times. Make sure you work on both legs equally.
For those with better balance, you may start by balancing on one leg with your eyes closed and then work towards incorporating some tasks like hopping in place, working on some ball handling skills as shown in the video below, or playing catch with a partner (you may want to open your eyes for that one). One of my favorite things to do is to incorporate balance into my strength and conditioning workouts. Deadlifting with a dumbbell while balancing on one leg presents a whole new set of challenges to my body and helps me utilize some muscles that are underworked with traditional deadlifts. There are an infinite number of variations on the concept of incorporating balance into your specific routine, so be creative and share your ideas in the comments.
No matter who you are, there is something for you to gain by working to improve your balance. I challenge you to stand up and get started right now.
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