How is balance defined?
‘Balance’ is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it implies an even distribution of weight, enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. As a verb, it means putting (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall. The point that balance is integrally related to a ‘steady state’ is clearly evident in both cases.
Why is body balance important?
The biological (ENT) control of balance aside, let’s focus on the functional aspect of (body) balance and what its deficit means for us in the long term. Think of the body as divided into four parts — top, bottom (split horizontally from the centre) and left and right (split vertically down the centre). Each part performs functions independently and synergistically.
Many daily, functional movements require all parts to function together, simultaneously and cohesively. Clearly, in case of any imbalance among these parts, movement will not be smooth.
What causes imbalance?
We all have an instinctive preference/bias to use one side of our body over the other (R vs L) to perform daily activities (pushing, pulling, lifting, twisting and more) without realising it. This leads to overuse/underuse imbalance of muscles and joints. Many even stand without centring and evenly distributing body weight on the feet (hip/pelvic tilt to one side or hip thrust forward or back). This unconscious preference and its postural ramifications create imbalances. Many people remain sedentary for most part, leaving muscles unengaged and weakened. Consequently, their ability to support and power movement erodes, compounding imbalance.
Another common factor is a weak core. Connecting the upper and lower body (structurally and functionally), the ‘core’ is the central cylinder formed by the abdomen, back and pelvic floor muscles. It is the ‘trunk’.
Given their central placement, weak core muscles cannot do a good job of supporting posture, stability, mobility, flexibility and balance of the body. Balancing requires active engagement of core muscles.
What does this mean in the long term?
Since all parts of the body are connected, any imbalance doesn’t impact just locally. It has a cascading effect on the body as a whole, causing it to operate sub-par. Multiply all imbalances over days, months and years, and it becomes easier to see where it all culminates — chronic tightness/stress, discomfort, aches, pains, and wear and tear of joints, muscles and connecting tissues. Strength, agility and flexibility in the body get further skewed. Fluidity of movement is compromised. This increases propensity to falls and injury. Combined with the natural ageing process, these dangers get exacerbated. So balance training for older adults is even more important to avoid falls.
How can one build balance?
Staying active is a great lifestyle choice, no doubt. Alongside, nurturing body awareness (recognising and spotting individual imbalances and posture deviations), incorporating active balance building and practising corrective movements are essential. Disciplines like Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi are known to confer these benefits.
One can tweak training and movement patterns to enhance balance. Choose exercises/movement options that involve and challenge balancing in various combinations — both leg, single leg, static (stationary) poses and dynamic movements in different directions. Barefoot training helps ignite and strengthen neural pathways. It simultaneously helps strengthen otherwise-neglected smaller muscles and joints of the feet that play a vital role in balancing. Strengthen core muscles and practise engaging them for all movements. Focus on deeper breathing patterns while exercising to build focus. This has a direct positive effect on balance. Last, but not the least, don’t put away addressing muscular and joint stresses until it’s too late.
Vani B Pahwa is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer, a certified Cancer Exercise Specialist, a Master Rehab Trainer, a Functional Movement, Barefoot Training Specialist, BarefootRX Rehab Specialist, Foot & Gait Analyst, and a BOSU Personal Trainer. She is also a Mohiniyattam dancer