Reality Check: How good is your balance?
Updated: May 24
All this windy weather requires sure footing...
The reality is that balance can begin declining after age 25 when muscle strength has peaked. (Shephard 1998)
How are you doing??
Balance requires input from multiple sensory systems; vestibular, somatosensory and visual systems. Vestibular system organs (inner ear) regulate equilibrium, the somatosensory system senses proprioceptive information from skin and joints, and the visual system (eyes) sense spatial location. Reduced strength, flexibility, proprioception and poor vision or medications can all affect balance. (Sherrington 2008)
In an Initial Assessment at High Line Active we test everyones balance. I'll ask you questions like, " when you walk down stairs do you hold on?" or "when you step on an escalator do you hold on?" "Have you had any falls in the past year?" It's common clients will answer, "yes I always hold on, just to be safer." or "yes I fell but I tripped." These types of strategies are employed when we don't trust our balance. Slipping or tripping can happen, but it's how well your body adapts and rights itself to hopefully avoid actually hitting the floor. Many clients are surprised (not in a good way) at the level of their balance. And while many fall inside normal values for their age, most verbalise to me they wish theirs was better. The good news is it can be better, with practice. Challenge must include lower limb strength, flexibility and balance challenge and should be of a moderate intensity for over 150 mins per week. This may include any balance challenge such as cycling, walking on uneven ground or a balance class!
Where's your static balance at today? A simple test is called the Single Leg Stance test. (Springer 2007)
Stand on the floor in bare feet, arms crossed over your chest and lift one foot off the floor. HOLD. Get someone to time you. If you move the standing leg, uncross your arms or put the raised leg down the test stops. Have 3 goes and average the results. This "normative data" was compiled testing 549 healthy Americans. How did you fare? Where would you like to be? If you're below average now, say in your 30's or 40's, where might you be in your 60's and 70s?
It is important to remember this is just ONE of many different balance tests. We'd need to test dynamic balance further and challenge you in different scenarios to get a full picture.
Specific balance, strength and flexibility testing can be completed by a Physiotherapist to determine where your potential deficit actually lies. From there a plan can be formulated if you need improvements or changes to your exercise routine.
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