Life’s balancing act

Balance – increasingly important as we age


At the halfway point in the “What is fitness” series we come to balance. Often neglected, it is a vital element of fitness and one that becomes increasingly important as we age.

At its most simple, balance is the ability to remain upright and steady. Good balance decreases the risk of falling and as we get older this substantially reduces the potential risk of bone and joint breakage, as age also decreases our ability to catch ourselves if we do happen to stumble.

The secret to improving balance

The ability to catch ourselves and remain steady and upright requires good motor function and control; essentially being able to switch on muscles instantly. So, the best way to improve balance is through resistance training, placing the body under load, whether this is using bodyweight based exercise, resistance machines or free weights.

My preference is free weights as this requires fixing yourself into the movement rather than being fixed into a single position. This forces enhanced reaction with the ground, helping to build new neural patterns between your brain and muscles, which will improve motor control and function.

Instability training is also worth investigation, where the subject stands on an inherently unstable surface, such as a Bosu ball (also known as a ‘blue half ball’). It is often assumed this type of training will improve balance by helping people adapt to unbalanced surfaces. However, it has not been proven to help build more balance. This is not to say it doesn’t help with conditioning people to what it might be like on the pitching deck of a yacht, but this is different to directly improving actual balance and it is accepted that further study is needed.

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          About the author

Alex is a registered Master Trainer and Nutritional Advisor with Level 4 qualifications in obesity and diabetes. He is also a strength specialist and a Ni Dan in Shotokan Karate.

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