Research studies have shown that balance training can have a positive impact on brain function. It turns out that balance isn't child's play, it's the key to health as we age. Yet, it is something we take for granted - until we fall. Our balance is relatively stable until we reach 50, and then it declines substantially each decade. Being able to stand one-legged for ten seconds is linked with lower risk of all-cause mortality. Most people over 70 cannot do this making them more likely to fall. Women have a higher risk of falling than men. Women account for (70.5%) the majority of non-fatal fall-related injuries.
When it comes to exercise, balance is a unique category in that it is distinct from aerobic and strength training. Balance is considered 'motor training', with little physical energy but a high level of mental effort. A lot happens in your brain to help your body maintain balance. When it comes to balance training, it is the complexity of the task that matters.
It is never too late to improve your balance, and you can easily integrate them into your day-to-day activities:
- while you are washing dishes or brushing your teeth - stand with your feet right together, or placed in tandem (one toe touching the other heel)
- while walking down a hallway near a wall, do a tandem walk where you shorten your stride so that your front heel touches the back toe with each step
- use a standing desk
- stand on a balance board or bosu ball
- dance or do Tai Chi
Experts recommend doing balance training three times a week. Even a little balance training will make a difference.
How does your balance compare to others? Balancing on one leg:
- under 40 years - 45 seconds with eyes open and 15 seconds with eyes closed
- age 40 - 49 - 42 seconds with eyes open and 13 seconds with eyes closed
- age 50 - 59 - 41 seconds with eyes open and 8 seconds with eyes closed
- age 60 - 69 - 32 seconds with eyes open and 4 seconds with eyes closed
- age 70 - 79 - 22 seconds with eyes open and 3 seconds with eyes closed
There is a balance-enhancing exercise program (BEEP) that is designed to improve balance through a quick, daily routine that can be done easily at home without professional supervision. There are several on-line sites that offer exercises as well.
So, let's increase our grey matter volume by working on your balance and stability.