One engages in physical exercise for bodily health and well-being. It is a key to longevity. Most authorities (in sports medicine) define fitness according to the following 5 elements: aerobic (cardiopulmonary) fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition. Yet, there is one area of overall fitness that is typically overlooked. Balance is an overarching component of total health. It is beneficial for the child on the playground, the competitive athlete, and the elderly individual. Much of the concern for balance and balance related injuries is directed toward the competitive athlete. However, the most severe complications involving faulty balance result from falls sustained by the elderly. Balance training is an intervention that can benefit all populations.
Balance must be considered one of the (if not the) most important elements of fitness and well-being that contribute to being human. The upright posture that humans must maintain requires intimate interactions between the nervous system, vestibular system, and structures within the muscles and tendons. Strength and endurance are beneficial but are of non-effect in the absence of balance. Much of the balance training is (usually) directed at professional athletes. There are some regular people who do include it in their exercise routines, but many do not. One demographic that sorely needs more of a focus on balance is the elderly population. There are easily accessed techniques that can aid with improving balance within any demographic.
Physical exercise Is necessary activity for the body. Movement is how the body maintains fluidity and joint mobility. Strength and endurance can also be improved: a result of exercise. These and other adaptations cause the body to make positive adaptations that contribute to a holistic lifestyle. A flexible, strong body that can perform physical task for extended periods is the optimal situation. The biomechanics of the body has not evolved much beyond the hunter gatherer, ox-drawn plow periods of recent (20,000 – 50,000 yrs) earth history. That would place the importance of movement near the top of a must-do list.
In general, people do not get enough consistent ‘quality’ movement. Modern society provides employment that does not involve overt amounts of movement. Many jobs are sedentary. Many jobs reinforce poor posture. Poor posture impacts other areas of the body, other areas that affect overall well-being. It terms of ‘physical activity’ performed throughout the day, our grandparents and great-grandparents were probably healthier than we are present day. That they did move more on a consistent basis would point to the need for movement to be (made) more of an addition to the daily routine.
Improving our ability to balance would be immensely helpful in terms of ‘overall health and well-being’. Balancing engages (nearly) all muscles . . . depending on how one is balancing. Our focus here will be (mainly) balancing while standing. The core musculatures are brought into play. Eye tracking becomes an integral part of the process as one interprets their position in time and space to make the needed corrections for uprighting themselves. However, scanty attention is giving to this vital aspect of health, fitness, wellness . . . that is until a fall is happening. Yet, there are basic practices that can be utilized to lessen the occurrence of a fall or of a near fall event.
For example, standing on one foot is a basic balancing movement. For some people, this maneuver might have to be supported by using a chair. However, the focus for balancing is not so much seeing what is happening as much as feeling in the foot what is going on while seeing. The little sensory structures in the ankle, lower leg and foot muscles and tendons are immensely critical for balancing. These structures become less responsive as age ensues, as lack of use becomes more prominent or due to injuries to that area that are improperly rehabilitated.
There are a couple of devices that can be utilized in maintaining the plasticity and responsiveness of those structures in the lower leg, ankle and foot. The BOSU Ball and the Dyna Disc. These items can be utilized by all demographic groups. They facilitate stabilization of the ankle / lower leg by providing the stimulus of an unstable surface. The balance structures in the ankle / foot / lower leg receive higher amounts of stimulation. This stimulation, in turn, will engage the nervous system and interact with the vestibular system. These mechanisms are invaluable in cases of decreased amount of usage, balance improvement / enhancement, and injury rehabilitation. Those who are less capable of balancing may have to use support in the initial stages using these devices.
Balance is very important. It is an element of fitness that is often overlooked. Although many athletes train balance and stability, many more people in society can benefit from training balance. The upright posture is sustained by having a good sense of balance. Without balance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, aerobic capability, flexibility . . . . . all of these would be of no value. Work on your body but most of all work on your balance.