How To Avoid Falls & Improve Balance

How To Avoid Falls & Improve Balance

Unfortunately, balance is one of those aspects of fitness that doesn’t become important to someone until they suffer the consequences of not actively working on it.

This usually comes in the form of a fall that results in injury, sometimes quite a nasty one at that.

Wrists, elbows and shoulders end up being “brakes” for the falling body and cop a lot of the damage resulting in sprains or sometimes broken bones.

Really, any part of the body can get damaged from what appears to be a simple fall. And many elderly people suffer tremendously from falls that result in broken hip joints.

If you do unfortunately suffer from a fall, unless a structured rehab program is followed, it can leave you susceptible to future falls as your proprioception or “balance” has been compromised.

The best way to minimise the risk of a fall is to understand what balance is and how to be proactive in developing it in your body.

A Sense of Balance

Balance helps prevent humans from falling over when standing or moving.

It’s the result of several body systems working together: the eyes (visual system), ears (vestibular system) and the feet where the body's sense of where it is in space (proprioception) is located and  ideally all these systems need to be intact and working in synergy.

It’s these systems that “sense” where the body is in relation to gravity and the space around it. They are very complex, extremely intelligent and are working all the time we are upright and moving.

They are continuously communicating with each other at lightning pace and this happens very unconsciously.  

A great example of what this looks like is when a baby is transitioning from crawling to walking. There’s lots of wobbly legs as the body’s balance mechanisms go into overdrive. The baby just keeps on attempting to stand up, training the balance mechanism until it’s adapted and can do its job effectively.

People end up with balance “issues” when one, or more than one of the systems isn’t functioning well and has stopped communicating with the others. It’s like the phone lines are down and the body doesn’t know what to do.

The Wobble 

When you are actively training your “sense of balance”, there must be a wobble or shake of the body.

If you are completely still and stable like a statue, these systems don’t have to work very hard, but if you are wobbling around like a baby trying to stand, they go in to overdrive.

This doesn’t feel very comfortable in the body and most people tend to want to diminish the wobble. Their conscious mind overrides the unconscious sense of balance, because the mind thinks the body will fall and fear sets in and they stop the exercise or want to hold on to something to steady themselves.

But just like when you are training muscles and you overload them, balance training is hard work and takes time and practice.

The key is to start slowly and practice every day. Try standing on one leg and see how long you can do this on each side. Then gradually do it for longer, longer each time.

The Pilates method of exercise has a BIG focus on feet and proprioception, helping people feel confident in their movement ability and capability to perform the fundamental and simple movement of walking.

If you are a little scared of doing balance training, initially try doing it next to a wall so you can hold on and gradually take your hand away.

And remember that a little bit of wobble is better that a lot of pain and inconvenience from a fall!

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