Balance may be defined as being in a state of bodily equilibrium or being at a state of rest given opposing forces. It also can be defined as a state of mental steadiness or emotional stability, but that is a different issue.
In this article I will investigate why we should seek ways to enhance our physical equilibrium and offer ways to improve yours.
Let’s get personal right from the start.
Test Your Balance
Stand up right now, and see if you can stand on one leg for 30 seconds without holding on to anything (but please stand near a wall that you can help yourself if you feel that you might be falling).
Try this first with your eyes open and then try it with them closed. If you cannot do this for at least 15 seconds on either leg without falling, you really should keep reading and begin taking some steps towards improving your balance.
Body balance is important for being able to walk and play, and engage in activities and sports without losing balance and falling.
Falling is a significant medical issue.
In general, balance starts deteriorating after age 40 and over 40% people over the age of 65 fall each year. Only motor vehicle accidents surpass falls as the leading cause of accidental death. Nearly 700,000 bone fractures result from falls, and these certainly happen more with advancing age and an increasing likelihood of osteoporosis.
Normal balance results from an integration of three types of information:
- Visual information (which can decrease with age related visual problems)
- Vestibular information (inner ear/where you are in relationship to horizontal)
- Somatosensory information from joint, tendons, muscles, etc.
Any decrease in the ability of these three arenas to send accurate data to the brain can result in a compromised ability to maintain proper and steady balance.
How to Improve Your Balance
This is where chiropractic has its primary effect.
According to the classic Guyton’s medical text, “By far the most important proprioceptive (positional) information needed for the maintenance of equilibrium is that deriving from the joint receptors in the neck.”
Spinal adjustment of the neck region can have a significant effect on improving balance by correcting forward head posture. Forward head positioning from years of slumped desk posture can put a lot of abnormal stress on the entire body. Your posture is how you balance your body, especially while standing.
It is also a key player in balance.
Hand in hand with poor posture, such as standing with a rounded or slouched position or kyphotic posture, is the shifting of weight and compensations that are required to maintain balance.
So then what are things you can do to improve your posture and balance?
Here are a few simple exercises that you can do at home to improve each of these.
1. To improve your posture, place your back against the wall, with your heels 2-3 inches away.
Look forwards with your chin tucked straight back. Maintain a steady pressure against the wall with your buttocks, shoulder blades and the back of your head, without tipping your head up or downwards.
2. Stand near a wall, (so that you could reach out to stabilize yourself if you needed to) with your hands at your sides.
First, with your eyes open and your body stiff like a plank of wood, shift your weight in several different directions, feeling your weight pressing on changing aspects of the bottom of your feet. Do this for 30 seconds.
3. Stand on 1 leg and work up to being able to do this for 60 seconds on both sides without teetering and wobbling with your eyes open. Then progress to doing it with eyes close. This helps to build your capability to have balance with less reliance on your visual clues.
4. Progress to standing on one leg and move and hold yourself in positions other than neutral standing, i.e. tilt your head to the side, swing your non-standing leg out or back, raise your arms above your head, etc and do this for 30 seconds each side.
5. Take a Tai Chi or Yoga class.
Try it, they are wonderful and have a significant degree of excellent scientific research validating their efficacy in improving balance and reducing falls.
If you take just one of these steps today and continue it each day, you may very well be one of the people whose balance does not decline after the age of 40, but actually improves.
Craig Weiner DC is a Washington Chiropractor, creator of The Transformational Dialogues, creator of webinars on relationship with his partner Alina Frank, including The Relationship Nexus Point and Path 2Passion and author of numerous articles on mind-body and integrative medicine.
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