Better Balance = Better Fitness: 5 Tips to Improve Your Balance
When it comes to balance, many people believe that it’s something we are either born with or we aren’t.
While genetics may play a role in setting the ceiling of our balance abilities, the majority of our balancing skills are gained through practice, and barriers can always be broken with the power of the mind.
So what exactly is balance and how does it work?
Balance is defined as a state of equilibrium. Our bodies have a highly sensitive system designed to maintain our state of equilibrium and remain upright. There is fluid in our inner ears and sensors called maculae which read changes in the orientation of the fluid. From there the maculae transmit a signal to your brain for processing. Your brain uses your other senses such as eyesight in conjunction with the signal from the maculae to determine the best corrective action. Then it conducts the corrective action by sending electrical signals through your nervous system to your muscles and ligaments. This all happens in under a millisecond. Aren’t our bodies incredible?
Good balance is a key part of the foundation for movement and fitness. Balance determines our ability to stay upright in loose or uneven footing, to move quickly and change directions, and increases our range of motion in physical space that we can functionally operate in and recover from being off balance without falling down or getting injured. Good balance is KEY to survival for most land animals.
While most of our balance is learned as a child, when we learn to stand up, walk, run, ride a bike, dance, etc. there are many things we can do later in life to improve. Just like our muscles, our balance gets stronger the more we challenge it and use it, so if you have “bad” balance the good news is you you’re not stuck with it, you can still become a balance master.
Here are my top 5 tips to improve your balance:
1. Go Barefoot – Whenever possible take your shoes off and exercise, walk, dance, play, run, without them. Removing your shoes puts you back into your natural state of balance feedback. Most shoes have thick soles that raise our center of gravity, alter our foot shape by constricting it, and interfere with the signals we get from our feet to our brain. If you don’t already spend much time barefoot try going for a walk on a smooth trail or on the beach. The more activities you do barefoot, the stronger and more flexible your muscles in your feet, ankles and lower legs will get, aiding in overall balance. If going completely barefoot isn’t your thing, or your environment isn’t safe enough to go barefoot you can try minimal footwear such as Vibram Fivefingers, or Earthrunners Sandals. These options will help protect your feet while still giving you most of the benefits of going completely barefoot. Getting more connected to the earth is always a good thing as well, and our feet are the first point of contact, so strip down and start walking. You’re just steps away from better balance!
2. Try New Activities – When you do a sport or activity that you’ve never done before it will stimulate new areas of the brain and challenge your balance in a new way. Activities such as different style of dancing, skiing, gymnastics, surfing, mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing, and slacklining are all great new ways to train your balance while having fun. Break out of your old routines if you want to grow in life, the same goes for balance.
3. Practice Yoga – Yoga is an ancient practice that has many benefits, and one of them is improving balance. Many of the poses are designed to challenge your balance in a new way, while improving the strength of the muscles needed to counter balance your body. Yoga will not only challenge your balance in ways that no other activity can, but it will help you improve your overall body awareness in physical space. Body awareness is critical to balance.
4. Play Balancing Games – There are many fun things you can do to see how good (or bad) your balance is while helping you improve it. Try standing on one foot and closing your eyes. See how long you can stay up. Is that easy? Then try going up onto the tip of your toes, or put your self off balance and try recovering from it without putting your other foot down. Want to make it even harder? Try putting your foot on a pillow.
You can also try fun games with a partner such as standing on an unstable surface like a Bosu, balance board, or even the sand and bending you knees. Have your partner toss you a small stone or medicine ball and try catching it, then throw it back to them. Your partner can throw it high, low, side to side, and in an unpredictable fashion. This will not only force you to use your balance to stay up while moving just enough to catch the object and throw it back, it will also train your hand eye co-ordination.
There are all sorts of quick and fun ways to work on your balance, you can fit it into your daily life quite easily without having to schedule a big training session or activity. A few minutes here and there adds up over time, and before you know it your balance will be much better than it ever has. These drills are also great for maintaining your balance between activities. As they say, “Use it or lose it”!
5. Improve Your Health – While balance is important, the health of our entire body and all of it’s systems is equally important. How well our body functions on the whole can determine the limitations in other areas of our life. A healthier diet will help create a healthier body, with less fat and more muscle. It will be easier to train your balance when you don’t have to carry around excess weight, and you will respond much quicker to training if your body is nourished with healthy food and is operating optimally. Health is not just about eating a healthier diet, there are many more factors involved. Hydration, sleep, environment, toxicity, stress, mental health, fitness and spiritual health can all have huge impacts on our well being. Balance is not limited to our physical bodies, but must be practiced in all aspects of our lives for optimum health.
For more information on how to improve balance, and live a healthier more natural and balanced life please contact me here!
If you have any questions, comments, or would like to share some of your best balance tips then leave them in the comment section below.
Peace and Health,