Poor balance can lead to all sorts of complications. Trips and falls can cause injuries, disabilities and end up in long stays in the hospital. This often results in weakness and further balance problems. It is important then, to be aware and actively work to maintain a good level of balance.
Exercise has been shown to be an important way to improve balance as well as muscle strength, endurance, postural awareness, mobility and function. Exercise specifically designed to challenge balance should contain the following components:
A reduced base of support
Our base of support is the area of our body in contact with the ground. In standing it would be our feet and in lying it would be our back. A smaller area in contact with the ground means we have to work harder to stabilise ourselves. An easy way to reduce your base of support is to stand on one leg instead of two or rise up onto your toes.
Move the centre of gravity over the base of support
Your centre of gravity is the middle point in your body where all the gravitational forces acting on your body are equal. We maintain balance when this point is directly over or above our base of support. When this point is no longer above our base of support, it becomes much harder to balance.
Reduce upper limb support
When we need additional support to balance the first thing we do is hold onto something with our hands. When trying to challenge balance, taking away support from your upper body can be an easier way to make an exercise more challenging. Even holding on with one finger is more challenging than using a whole hand for support when trying to practice balance exercises.
Other factors that are also important to help challenge balance are to perform exercises in a standing position, on unstable surfaces, with closed eyes and while trying to do another task at the same time. It is also important to practice regularly and progress your exercises in order to continue to see improvements.
Pilates in particular may be a good form of exercise in which to improve your balance. Pilates often provides a challenge to balance by including exercises in many different positions, uses equipment with differing levels of stability and involves arm, leg and trunk coordination. It also focuses on activating and strengthening stabilising muscles of the body, and improves body-awareness, all important factors for improving balance! Another benefit of Pilates is that it is a low impact and easily modifiable form of exercise making it great for anyone who is also recovering from injury or illness.
While working to improve your balance it is important to make sure you put your safety first. Surround yourself with stable objects and have someone around when you try new exercises. If you are unsure how to go about improving your balance or are also managing other health conditions, consulting your physiotherapist or starting some clinical Pilates classes can be a great way to learn and improve in a supervised way with lots of exercise variety.