Balance is the key to life. Often, we struggle to find that two-syllable word in a world that craves extremes and quick fixes, whether it is losing weight, acquiring wealth or finding happiness.
To function at our best, we definitely need to balance taking care of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Focusing too much on any one facet catches up on us and leads to health problems in the neglected areas.
For instance, if you spend an enormous amount of time contemplating your navel, your brain waves start to slow down and your mental agility will start to go. Likewise, if you were to over-exercise, like I occasionally do, and not allow your body adequate rest, you would probably injure yourself.
Whenever you amplify certain aspects of life, you lose perspective and balance.
When we exercise, we also need to strike a right balance. In addition to cardiovascular, strength and flexibility components, we need to add balance exercises to maintain balance and increase confidence as we age.
Most people don’t spend any time thinking about their balance until it’s too late. They are jolted “awake” when they fall and sustain a fracture, or injure themselves.
As we get older, our fear of falling increases. But, balance isn’t just a concern for the elderly, who are more prone to falls. Balance training is important for everyone, from professional athletes to casual exercisers and doting grandparents.
Good balance and a strong core go hand in hand as a controlled wobble activates the deep core muscles to help tighten the midsection. And a strong core usually means better posture, less back pain and improved performance during workouts.
Plus, the better your balance, the easier it is to do quick turns and lunges, and the less likely you are to fall or injure yourself. If you haven’t thought much about enhancing your physical balancing skills, it’s time to start.
According to Dr Vonda Wright, author of Fitness After 40: How To Stay Strong At Any Age, there is a simple method to test your equilibrium.
Stand next to a firm surface such as a counter or chair back, hold your hands above the surface in case you need support, close your eyes and lift one foot off the ground, balance on the other foot and count out loud the number of seconds you are able to balance.
“The shorter your balance time, the ‘older’ your equilibrium is. If you balanced for more than 22 seconds, your balance is as young as a 20-year-old’s; 15 seconds, you have the balance of a 30-year-old; 7.2 seconds, of a 40-year-old; 3.7 seconds, of a 50-year-old; and if you toppled over right away, you are 60 in balance years,” she writes.
Not only does balance training benefit your neuromuscular coordination, it also helps with muscle isolation. During balance training, you have to maintain stabilisation, and you are forced to engage an individual muscle predominantly so that you are not using other muscles to help you compensate or “cheat”. Hence, your body has to work a lot harder.
The National Academy of Sports Medicine states that through a complex system of environmental feedback, cues from the bottom of your feet, the relation of your inner ear to gravity, and what you see, your body senses which muscles to activate or deactivate to maintain your desired position.
When the information received is too complex to translate, the system is overwhelmed and you lose your balance.
With balance training, you can master what once seemed like impossible tasks – just like you did when you first removed the training wheels from your childhood bicycle.
Many studies also show that people who practise the non-competitive martial art of tai chi (which emphasises gentle movements and stretching) have a significantly better sense of joint position and better reaction times than people of the same age who did not practise such balance-intense activities.
This meditation-in-motion art helps alleviate stress and promote inner peace.
There are many fitness tools designed to improve your balance, such as Bosu trainers, stability balls, inflatable discs, foam rollers, wobble boards etc. However, you don’t need any of these gadgets – your body alone (and perhaps a chair or wall) is enough to work on balance training.
Exercises include standing on one foot, walking in a straight line with one foot placed in front of the other while gazing forward, walking on the balls of the feet, walking on the heels, side leg raises, single-leg squats and so forth. Modify as you progress.
Keep safety in mind at all times: remove objects around you and stand near a wall or stable surface in case you lose your balance.
A fun game for the whole family to try is the one-legged clock. Balance on one leg, torso straight, eyes in front and hands on the hips.
Visualise a clock and point your arm straight overhead to 12, then to the side (three), and then circle low and around to nine without losing your balance.
Increase the challenge by having a partner call out the different times to you. Switch to the opposite arm and leg, and repeat.
Another good way to train your balance is to work on an uneven surface (a beach would be best).
Simply stand and lift your heels off the ground. Once you’ve found the balance, close your eyes as your sense of vision plays a big role in the balance equation.
To add difficulty, lift one foot off while you relax your other body parts. Keep your eyes closed. Sounds easy, but it’s not. You have to maintain a certain level of calmness and focus. This also helps in dealing with anger issues.
Turn your workouts into a balancing act for added benefits.
The writer is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance, but longs for some bulk and flesh in the right places.