Why do we need balance training?
Balance can be defined as the body’s ability to maintain its centre of mass within its base of support. There are many benefits to balance training, ranging from reducing the risk of injuries in athletes to improving mobility and prevention of falls in older adults. Studies have also found if balance training is maintained after a stroke, the individual’s quality of life is improved. Another study investigating the effects of both gait and balance training in people with Parkinson’s disease found improved walking speed, step length and rhythm. Also, balance training with dual tasks proved to significantly increase balance when eyes were closed. Balance training can benefit everyone, from beginners to athletes, from chronic conditions to healthy adults and from the young to not so young.
How do we maintain balance?
There are three main sensory systems adults rely on to maintain standing balance, these include the somatosensory, visual and vestibular systems. The somatosensory system involves responses to the position and motion of the body with reference to supporting surfaces, i.e. where our joints are and what we can feel. The visual system (our eyes) use position and motion of the head with reference to nearby objects to maintain balance, while the vestibular system (inner ear) determines the position and motion of the head with reference to gravity. Often input from all three sensory systems is available to help maintain balance, for example when standing with feet together on a solid surface with eyes open. At other times, information will only be provided from one system, for example when standing on foam/grass/bosu, with eyes closed, gaining input from only the vestibular system. As the eyes are closed or if it is very dark there is no input from the visual system and standing on an uneven surface leads to some distorted information from the somatosensory system, (what you can feel) and therefore the body is predominantly using the vestibular system to maintain postural control and balance. When we construct a balance program we include exercises on different surfaces, with head movements and with the eyes opened or closed to challenge the body’s sensory systems. When it is safe to do so we challenge you further by reducing the base of support, for example, standing on a narrow base or standing on one leg, and when performing balance tasks in motion, for example stepping over obstacles.
Why do we fall?
Age related changes in these sensory systems reduce balance control in healthy older adults. For example, a loss of visual field, a decrease in vestibular function and a decrease in tactile sensation all impact the amount of input the body is receiving from its surroundings making it harder to balance. These changes along with a loss of strength, endurance and slowed reaction times contribute to a reduction in balance and increase the risk of falls as we age. According to Exercise is Medicine Australia (2014), at least one third of community-living Australians aged 65 years and over fall every year. Almost three quarters report slips, trips and loss of balance as the cause of the fall.
How can we improve our balance and prevent falls?
Robust research has found that performing 90-120 minutes of balance training per week which includes exercises such as standing on unstable surfaces, holding positions/postures that challenge the centre of gravity, incorporating dual tasks and functional exercises such as stairs, are effective in improving balance and can reduce the risk and rate of falls 20-35%.
In addition to giving individualised balance exercises, we incorporate balance training into our lifestyle fitness classes and also run an online balance and mobility class.
If you are noticing that you feel unsteady at times or you now prefer to sit rather than stand to dress don’t hesitate to discuss this with us as we can help you to get stronger and improve your balance and confidence. We see amazing improvements! Call and make an appointment today!