Saturday 4 August 2018

Balance your way to fitness

A seriously overlooked aspect of health and fitness is balance. We all know about needing to improve our cardiovascular health, our strength, as well our flexibility, especially for when we get older, but balance is just as important.

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Everyone one of us is born with what is called "proprioception", which refers to our body's spatial awareness. It is subconscious and active all the time letting our body know if we are standing or sitting, if we are reaching up, if we are on one leg, if we are jumping, etc. and counter-balancing the body by activating the right muscles at the right time with the right amount of force to maintain our center of gravity so we don't fall or collapse in on ourselves.

It is vital for every day life and more so for those involved in physical activities. Dynamic balance is where our body subconsciously adapts to moving and changing directions in various different conditions such as jumping onto an unstable surface or running on an uneven surface.

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Causes and effects of decreased proprioception

The main causes of decreased proprioceptive ability include the following :

  • Injury, especially to a joint that requires a lengthy recovery period.
  • Muscular imbalances.
  • Age. As we get older our proprioception naturally diminishes.
  • Neurologic disorders and nerve damage.
  • Vertigo.
  • Inner ear problems.
  • Medication.

Some of these are beyond the scope of fitness professionals and require medical attention.

Examples of the effects of decreased proprioceptive ability include:

  • Loss of balance.
  • Increased odds of muscular and joint injury especially in the lower-extremities such as sprains and anterior-cruciate ligament (ACL) issues.
  • Increased odds of re-injury if the joint is still unstable from the previous injury.
  • Increased risk of falls in elderly people
  • Impaired ability to perform certain actions and exercises.

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Benefits of balance training

The benefits of balance training have quite a major impact on your overall health, fitness, and ability to perform both daily and athletic activities:

  • Increased spatial awareness.
  • Improved joint stability: strengthening ligaments, tendons, and muscles around the ankles, knees, hip, and shoulders.
  • Increased co-ordination and agility allowing for the body to move and change direction in a fast and efficient manner whilst keeping your center of gravity.
  • Increased reaction time allowing for faster re-balancing of the body.
  • Improved athletic performance.
  • Helps prevent lower-extremity injuries such as sprains and ACL issues especially in athletes.
  • Helps prevent falls especially in older people.
  • Helps develop a strong core.

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How to improve proprioception

Thankfully proprioception and along with it balance can be quickly improved. To do so requires you to challenge your proprioceptive ability and making the conscious effort to maintain your balance (center of gravity) a subconscious thought. Some examples include:

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Closing thoughts

As you can see there are quite a few important benefits to implementing a balance training routine. And yes, balance is really that important! Whilst you don't need to get to the proficiency of gymnasts or yoga gurus, some of their moves can fun and challenging.

For more on how to devise and implement a balance routine see my post Implementing balance training. Any questions of queries then feel free to comment below or send me some feedback!

Lyle Richardson,
Gym Pal - Your Friend In Fitness