Walking down the stairs without tripping, walking over gravel or uneven ground with ease, being able to balance on one leg as we slip on a shoe onto the other foot, even just feeling safe navigating the floors at home - these are all important aspects of our ability to balance that is often taken for granted, despite being important for our health and well-being.
Our balance is the harmonious coordination of our body's muscles, joints, and sensory systems that allows us to maintain stability and perform a wide range of activities effortlessly and naturally. Beyond just preventing falls, balance plays a vital role in our overall health, well-being, and even our lifespan. This is why a balance assessment and balance training is an important part of many physiotherapy assessments and management plans, and why we have a strong focus on it here at PhysioCentral. Here’s a closer look into the importance of balance, and five exercises you can incorporate into your day to help support your balance for life.
The Importance of Balance: An Overview
Balance serves as the foundation for our body's stability, mobility, and coordination. It is essential in every stage of life, from childhood to old age, helping with:
- Falls prevention: maintaining good balance is paramount in preventing falls, especially among older adults. Falls can lead to severe injuries, reduced independence, and a decline in overall health. By enhancing balance, we can significantly reduce the risk of falls and their potential consequences.
- Posture and alignment: balance is closely intertwined with proper posture and alignment. It helps us maintain an optimal body position, distributing the forces evenly through our skeletal system. By improving balance, we can alleviate stress on joints and muscles, reducing the likelihood of musculoskeletal disorders.
- Movement efficiency: good balance enables efficient movement and even enhances athletic performance. Whether you're an athlete, a fitness enthusiast, or simply engaged in everyday physical activities, improved balance allows you to move with greater agility, coordination, and precision.
- Core strength and stability: balance is intimately linked with core strength. Core muscles play a vital role in stabilising our body during movements. By enhancing balance, we simultaneously strengthen our core, leading to improved overall stability and resilience.
- Brain function and cognitive health: research suggests a strong correlation between balance and cognitive function. Maintaining good balance challenges our brain, stimulating neural connections and promoting mental acuity. Regular balance exercises have been shown to enhance cognitive abilities, reducing the risk of cognitive decline.
The Role of Physiotherapy in Balance
As experienced physios, we understand the important role that balance plays in your daily life, injury prevention, meeting your goals, and keeping you mobile and feeling good on your feet. Through an assessment, we can determine your current balance capabilities, identify areas for improvement, and develop a tailored management plan to address your unique needs.
Depending on your risk factors, we may also complete a fall risk assessment where we look at various factors including muscle strength, joint mobility, sensory perception, environmental hazards and more. Based on your results, we may then incorporate falls prevention strategies into your management plan.
For many people, part of your care will include the prescription of targeted exercises that focus on improving your balance, strength, flexibility, and coordination. These exercises are designed to progressively challenge and enhance your abilities, ensuring a safe and gradual improvement in your balance skills.
Another area we work extensively in is with those who have undergone surgery and require help to regain optimal balance, strength, and functionality during the rehabilitation process. By addressing underlying imbalances and weaknesses, we can also help prevent future injuries.
Five Simple Balance Exercises to Perform at Home
Incorporating balance exercises into your daily routine can be a simple and effective way to improve your overall balance and stability. Here are five simple exercises that you can perform at home:
Single Leg Stance
- Stand near a wall or other sturdy object like a chair for support.
- Lift one foot off the ground, bending your knee slightly, and maintain your balance on the other leg.
- Start with holding your leg up for 20-30 seconds and gradually increase the duration as you progress.
- Repeat with the opposite foot.
- If you can complete this exercise with ease and hold your leg for 60 seconds, try repeating it while standing on a soft or uneven surface like a pillow, which will increase the difficulty level of the exercise. Remember to keep yourself supported so that you don’t fall.
Rock The Boat
- Stand next to a wall for support if you need it.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Start by slowly lifting your left leg and shifting your weight to the right leg.
- Hold your balance for 5 seconds.
- Slowly lower your left leg back to its original position.
- Slowly lift the right leg, shifting your weight to the left leg.
- Hold your balance for 5 sections.
- Repeat ten times.
- If your balance is unsteady, complete this exercise near a wall for support or have someone nearby to assist you.
- Position the heel of one foot against the toes of your other foot, keeping them in a straight line.
- Take small steps, placing your heel in front of the toes of the opposite foot with each step.
- Repeat for 10-15 steps, focusing on maintaining your balance throughout.
- Begin by sitting towards the front edge of a chair (without armrests) with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground.
- You can place your hands on either side of the seat, but try not to support any weight with your hands as you rise to a standing position.
- Slowly rise to a standing position, using only your leg muscles.
- Take a deep breath in and out.
- Inhale slowly as you return to a seated position in a controlled manner, then breathe out.
- Repeat 10-15 times.
- If you find this exercise easy, you can try using a lower chair.
- If this exercise is too hard, use a seat with armrests and push off from the armrests using your hands.
Standing Balance and Object Reach
- Complete this exercise next to a wall or other object like a chair to hold onto if you feel yourself losing your balance.
- Place an object on the floor in front of you.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Slowly lift one foot off the ground and maintain your balance.
- Reach forwards and pick up the object from the floor, continuing to balance on one leg.
- Straighten your body and return to the starting position.
- Place the object back on the floor and repeat on the opposite leg.