Most of us don’t think about balance until we fall. The fact is balance declines somewhere between age 40 and 50. The National Institute of Health reports that one in three people over 65 will experience a fall each year. There are things out of our control happening as we age that affect our balance and ability to prevent a fall. These are things like reflexes and coordination slowing down, changes to the vestibular system in the inner ear losing where cells die off, hampering our ability to correct our position and muscle mass/strength decrease. We also lose the ability to react swiftly.
In my practice, I see all these things with particularly new clients coming in telling me “My balance isn’t the best these days” when performing the stand one leg test during an assessment session. I carefully watch the form to determine not only to determine their success rate but also to observe whether they are using the right muscles to do it! Sure, some people can successfully stand on one foot using mainly their calf, ankle, foot and even shoulder and neck muscles. Balancing with your neck muscles? What? When not given the correct form and neuromuscular pathways, the body will resort to whatever muscles it can use to make movement happen, however successful or not the attempt may be.
I say this because the correct muscles involved in improving balance and the ones that will ultimately help you correct for natural balance loss come from your CORE.
Let me first say that your core is not simply comprised of the 6-pack abs we envision ourselves having. Yes, it is the abdominal muscles, but it is also the deeper pelvic floor, lower back, hips, and glutes. The core muscles work together as a functional unit versus in isolation, which is why I tell my clients that functionally, their glutes are part of their core, and are just as important, if not more important than the ever-so-desired 6-pack abs.
Countless research articles in peer-reviewed journals prove engaging in balance exercises substantially reduces fall risk. The trick is to include balance training regularly in your exercise program and not just rely upon doing the same machines at the gym or other familiar routines. Shake it up by using tools like a BOSU ball, wobbleboard and doing single leg weight bearing exercises. Plus, do it right! With balance exercises, stand in a very slight squatting position either on 1 leg or 2, with hips slightly back and knee(s) slightly bent. Squeeze glute(s) and navel drawn in towards the spine to activate the CORE muscles and get the larger and better equipped muscles to activate and do the work that the lower legs and shoulders might do by default.
Train your balance system regularly and you will sound like one of my many long-term clients that tell me consistently how grateful they are for consistent balance training helping them to catch and prevent falls. Let us help you get more balance in your life!