Posted by: seattledizzygroup | September 19, 2012

Tips for Better Balance

Tips For Better Balance

from Christopher Morrow, PT, NCS

 

Article from Pacific Balance and Rehabilitation Clinic’s September Newsletter.

In honor of September’s Balance Awareness week, I am happy to offer you my professional opinion on methods to improve your balance. Now these “tips for better balance” are wide-ranging, because functional balance skills are multi-factorial, requiring fine-tuned integration of many areas of the brain and body. These tips are representative of the multi-layered systems that help us stay upright throughout our everyday activities.

  • Be attentive – Balance is typically considered part of our automatic background functions, yet we all demonstrate improved balance skills just by paying attention to what we are doing. By “living in the moment” and maintaining a higher level of body awareness during movement, your functional stability will improve. For example, moments of mindfulness when you pay extra attention to the weight distribution in your feet is one way to heighten your brain’s use of sensory awareness.
  • Utilize visual cues for reference of “self in space” – Vision is an amazingly complex system that offers us an efficient way to orient ourselves in space compared to the horizon, and to other people and objects around us. Take advantage of this by making a habit of picking out points a distance ahead of you, as a reference cue. Periodically orienting ourselves to the horizon makes our brain’s job of keeping us upright much easier.
  • Foot position matters – trial various stances – Allow yourself to stand in various stances, ex: feet wide apart to closer together, or with one foot differing distances in front of the other. As you stand during your day, “play” with the position of your feet to see what feels “right” for you and what feels “wrong”. You can do the same as you walk or turn – experimenting with your foot placement to observe what feels best and safest for you.
  • Use it or lose it – practice balance challenges frequently. The human body is built on a neural network responsive to movement feedback to fine-tune responses. Short frequent bouts of functional movement and balance activities keeps those neural networks sharp! Happily, with appropriate exercises directed at driving feedback to challenge our neural network, the human brain is ALWAYS able to adapt and improve…it just takes PRACTICE!
  • Weight shift to move your center over your base – Moving your body over your feet, by rocking or shifting your weight, is a great way to see what is safe for you to do, and what is not. When you move your body toward the edge of your balance in any direction, you are fine-tuning your brain’s awareness of the limits of your standing stability. Place yourself outward from a corner and have fun safely challenging your limits!
  • Aerobic endurance is key – The single most important exercise for good balance is one that improves your aerobic endurance. Create a program to complete 4-5 times/week in which you raise your blood pressure and heart rate for a sustained period. It should not feel “hard” – merely an invigorating level of movement via walking, swimming, bicycling, stationary machine, or other sporting activities.
  • Maintain your hip and ankle flexibility – Balance is not a static event. Throughout our daily activities, we are constantly making slight weight shifts to optimize our upright position. ideally, most of those adjustments are made by moving our body over our ankles, making it vital that we maintain full motion of each ankle in all directions.
  • Engage your core for strength and awareness – When we engage our core abdominal muscles, “pull in your belly button”, we stabilize the center of our body. When we keep our core trunk muscles engaged during activity, it is always easier to stabilize over our feet in order to stand and walk. The key is to practice engaging the core muscles frequently, thereby heightening neuromuscular activity and readiness.
  • Optimize your hip and ankle strength – Since we make most of our balance adjustments via movement at the ankles, it is essential that you maintain ankle strength through heel raises, toe, raises, and ankle stability activities in all planes. Your hips are primary stabilizers of your legs on your pelvis, and the hip musculature requires optimal strength and power to do this job well. Perform squats, lunges, or leg raises.
  • Perform activities that promote an upright posture – Allow time each day to stretch, make yourself tall, reach for the ceiling, pull your spine toward the sky. Stand with your chin tucked, shoulders back, spine extended to its full length, and hips pressed forward to length your legs – how long can you stay in this position, or how many times can you attain that pose?
  • Your head and eyes must work together – It is crucial for your head movements and eye movements to be in alignment. Moving your head slowly and mindfully will help your eyes maintain an appropriate position relative to your head. Frequently offer your eyes visual cues – points of reference – as you turn your head and place it in different positions. Practice moving your head while looking at one object. Shift your eyes to focus from object to object as your head is moving.
  • Maintain a consistent daily and nightly schedule – By maintaining a consistent wake and sleep cycle, you make it much easier for the brain to function efficiently. Keep your brain in balance to keep your body in balance! Good sleep is essential.
  • What you ingest directly affects your brain’s function – Our brain monitors and regulates everything we ingest, recognizing “dangers” in the food we eat and reacting via defensive responses, if necessary. As well, what we ingest may stimulate or depress our brain function. Avoiding foods that irritate or fluctuate brain function creates the right environment for us to learn and grow, keys to good health and balance.
  • Perform frequent calming and centering activities – Give yourself time every day to take a deep breath and calm. Participate in relaxation activities. Do things that make you feel happy, safe, secure, grounded. Feel the connection you have to the earth, to the life and people that are important to you.
  • Build reserves to avoid living “on the edge” – Keep yourself active. Stimulate your body and mind daily. Participate in events that give you opportunities to stretch your personal boundaries to improve your strength, flexibility, endurance, centering, cognitive skills, core stabilization, and body awareness. The reserves you create today will help you maintain good balance tomorrow.
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