Exercises to Help Maintain Balance and Strength
The dictionary states balance is the ability to maintain the body's center of mass over its base of support. If balanced, one can see when mobile, gauge direction and speed while moving, and adjust accordingly to maintain balance.
The human body has six basic balance sensors working together to help us maintain our equilibrium (see picture below). The input from these sensors help the brain process information to aid in keeping us aright within our area of space.
How does climbing affect input in regards to balance? It is the pressure placed upon the front part of the foot (or sole) as a person leans forward signaling the brain on our whereabouts. We are then advised what motor output, what reaction and pressure, is needed to keep upright and moving. Out body responds and adapts.
A Doctor's Balanced Perspective
Earlier this Spring, an elderly friend of ours shared a piece of advice on aging well. At the time, he was having a bit of trouble standing up without tipping over in the mornings. He set an appointment with his family doctor out of concern. After a series of tests, Roger's results showed his sense of balance was indeed off.
Most interesting was the advice and prescription his doctor gave him. Through years of research and consultation, his physician believed Floridians were at a disadvantage with the flat terrain they walked upon. He suggested a simple exercise to strengthen the muscles to regain balance. It is quite simple and if practiced two to three times daily one can slowly feel the effects.
- Stand against a table or wall for support
- Place one foot in front of the other (this is called a tandem stance)
- Close your eyes
- Lift your hands up, parallel to the ground, slightly to the back of your body
- Count how many seconds you can stay balanced without moving or falling.
- Repeat, switching feet (left vs. right in front, etc.) for a total of four attempts
The first time I tried this exercise -- I stood for a total of three seconds without moving. Not so good. After four weeks, I can now stand for about ten seconds without tipping over. Ah, balance can be improved - even if there are no mountains to scale!
How Balanced Are You?
Number of seconds without falling while balanced with one foot in front of the other and eyes closed.
Hiking for Health and Stamina
Because we were tucked away at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains during the 80's, hiking was a family activity almost every other weekend. Accompanied by the family dog (and the curious cat), we trekked into the wooded forest looking for adventure.
Endurance and balance were two important benefits we all derived from our hiking experience over the years. The challenge of walking up and down steep mountains and hills not only strengthened our muscles but developed our sense of balance.
We now reside in Florida and the tallest point is Britton Hill at 345 feet in Walton County. Unless you count Disney's Space Mountain in the category of height, there are no hills or mountains in Florida. This poses a problem for us as part of the aging Floridian population. It is the force of climbing that contributes to the body's balance control. In short, we are a little off-balanced without the challenge of climbing.
Age-Balance Averages (standing on one foot)
Pirouettes of Joy
Basic Exercise Tips
The video below has a small section on balancing with one foot in front of the other (around the 2:07 mark). It gives you an example of how it is done and what it is meant to improve. I found the video quite helpful in general for improving my sense of balance-control, strengthening my ankles and core leg muscles.
Simple Balance Exercise Tips
Steady as He Goes!
The Deeper Meaning
When I contemplated the possibility of losing balance due to lack of climbing challenges, being a person who loves to analyze truths, I found the whole experience spiritually moving. How so? Well, If you think about it ... mountains in life challenge us to climb upwards.
There are many heroic tales of adventure stemming from mountain top experiences. For example:
- Noah's ark rested on the peaks of Ararat after facing the flood of destruction.
- Moses talked to and saw God on Mount Sinai after climbing upwards over rocky terrain.
- Edmund Percival Hillary, the first man to reach the top of Mount Everest, overcame hazardous weather, closed access, and frozen boots to plant a cross on its summit in 1953.
- Lastly, in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Return of the King the climax centers around Frodo ascending Mount Doom to destroy the "one ring" to save the world.
If we are to gain stability in life, we must face the mountains in our path. It begins with one step on a journey which most undoubtedly promises to test our faith. Looking upwards, we view the terrible heights we must reach. Only the brave know the results of facing this fear. Yes, dear friend, we find balance in life when we discover mountain climbing molds our inner being to champion over adversity.
Many of us lose our sense of balance as we age, due to different factors, but we may be able to build our sense of control through simple exercise. Our mental attitude can contribute to our external view of health. Our beliefs may affect how we face our personal fitness challenges. The following are some key pointers to keep in mind.
- Hiking hills and mountains are excellent ways to build muscles. While enjoying the outdoors, one can count on a well-balanced body and attitude over time.
- Pay attention to how your body sensors help your brain send important signals to help your body adapt as you walk or climb. For instance, when one has an inner ear infection standing and walking may become difficult without tipping over.
- Face the "mountains" in your life with courage. The prophet Isaiah writes "And I will make all my mountains a road, and my highways shall be raised up." Mountains were created and intended to lead us to better places, perfecting our faith.
Find your way over the mountain!
The medical information included in this article is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. The responsibility for results or consequences falls upon the reader if there is an attempt to use or adopt any of the information presented in the post.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2016 Dianna Mendez