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BALANCE: A Pre-habilitation Necessity

By Marta Malloy, Group Fitness Director, Camelback Village Health Club and Spa

Balance is essential for pre-habilitation training, helping us stay confident and reduce the risk of accidents as we move through life. If we don’t actively practice and challenge our balance, we risk losing it.

The British Journal of Sports Medicine found that being able to balance on one leg for 10 seconds is linked to longevity. This connection is thought to exist because balance ability reflects muscular strength and endurance, cognitive and visual health, and the responsiveness of neural pathways.

How to Improve Balance

There are two important ways to train and improve balance. The first is to build good base strength.  Good old school resistance training will do.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  When you have a strong base, strong legs and core, that strength will help you remain upright should you lose your balance or trip. Those muscles will respond.  But those muscles also need to receive the message that you are losing your balance so they can respond.  This is where some additional training and exercises are necessary.

We are lucky that even as we age our brain continues to develop new neural connections.  This is known as neural plasticity of the brain or neuroplasticity.  It is the ability of the brain to create new circuits, to rewire, when learning a new ability or practice.  So, if you want your muscles to learn to quickly respond when tripping or falling, you must practice it. 

Exercises to Improve Balance

One Leg Balance

Balance on one leg or tap and hover the free leg if necessary. When you feel your body swaying that is your leg and core muscles at work to hold you upright.  That muscular response will develop the neurons that will help your muscles respond when falling unintentionally.  You can increase the challenge by adding oscillations.  Move your arms around or grab a resistance band to experience a change in stability and resistance.

Weight Shifts

Practice shifting your weight from side to side, or forward and back, or diagonally with a pause at each end. When we trip, we’re likely to do so in any given direction.  Transferring your weight in multiple planes of motion sends a message to the brain to build networks that will then respond to those shifts.

Proprioceptive Disruption

Challenge your balance by disrupting your proprioceptive connection. Stand and simply move your head, redirecting your eyesight, slowly.  Or if it feels safe to do so, more quickly. 

Varying Walk Speeds

Practice walking faster or sloooooooower and perhaps over, or in between objects to help increase speed but also remove hesitancy when walking. It will also strengthen the gait and improve hip mobility.

Controlled Falls

And lastly, fall – on purpose and in control. Purposefully raise up to your toes and land firmly on your heels.  Not only will you be challenged when balancing on your toes, but you’ll also create a gentle impact on your bones, joints and muscles so they too will strengthen in response.  Perhaps even take a stride forward with a firm landing on the front foot so that the added gentle force can create internal change

Begin to incorporate small balance and strength challenges and build them overtime. Stick with it.  Because once you create the neuromuscular connections and the strength, you’ll need to practice to prevent those connections from deteriorating.  You’ve got this!

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