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How is your balance in standing? What about on one leg? If you are experiencing a gradual loss of balance, daily tasks that were once simple to do may now be more difficult to accomplish, such as pulling on a sock or sliding one foot through a pant leg while standing on the other foot. You may be finding yourself reaching for support to maintain your balance, such as leaning against the wall or holding onto a countertop, to manage daily tasks. For activities that require you to use both hands, and therefore without a free hand to hold yourself steady while standing, you may find yourself sitting down instead.
Good static and dynamic balance are an integral part of successful participation in our daily routine, whether it be managing household chores, walking the dog, negotiating the stairs, or practicing tai chi. In other words, good balance enables us to preserve our independence for functional mobility, which in turn, facilitates meaningful engagement in our self-care tasks (activities of daily living), domestic tasks (instrumental activities of daily living), productivity (school, work, volunteering), and leisure (sports, hobbies).
Balance is an important physical component of our bodily structures and functions. It involves a complex interaction between several different systems in the body. For instance, input from our eyes, muscles, tendons, joints, and the inner ear are processed and coordinated to ensure proper balance. Adequate balance is acquired during the early developmental stages of childhood and is slowly lost with the process of aging in later years, especially with increasingly sedentary lifestyles and fewer opportunities to maintain it. Poor balance can also be a byproduct of serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. However, exercise and interventions provided by a Physiotherapist can help to regain, maintain, and optimize balance for everyday functions. Compensatory strategies for diminished balance might also be explored. If you experience a sudden, noticeable change in your ability to balance, you should consult a professional.
It is important to recognize that the loss of balance can quickly accelerate without timely intervention. Older people who can’t – or are afraid to – walk around outside their homes, let alone tackle anything more strenuous, are prone to becoming more unsteady on their feet as their abilities to right and control their postural alignment atrophy, making falls more likely.
Whatever activity you choose and whatever stage of life you’re in, the take-home lesson is to find activities that engage and work on your balance. It is worthwhile to prevent a loss of balance as addressing it once it becomes an issue brings added challenges. It is difficult to get back balance once it is gone. Resistance exercise, whether lifting weights, piggybacking your grandchild, or hiking with a backpack, comes with a host of other proven health benefits, from improved bone density to a reduced risk of cognitive impairment. Just 15 minutes a day of balance practice can be beneficial.