For the last half year, when walking from the parking lot to my office building, I would hop on a curb alongside a lawn and walk it as if it were a balance beam. It does look weird and gets me a fair share of puzzled glances. But I persist. Let me tell you why.
What Is Balance?
Balance is a key concept in medicine. We talk about balanced diet, work-life balance and balanced emotions. But curiously, we don’t pay much attention to actual physical balance. That is, until a person falls and sustains an injury.
What started me on my curb-walking was a study linking three exercises (one-legged balance, grip strength and squats) that correlated with longevity. Yes, longevity – the Holy Grail of medicine.
Naturally, I set out to test myself. Squats and grip strength turned out to be no problem. The balance exercise sounded really simple, so I left it for the very end.
In the study, the researchers had the subjects stand on one leg with eyes closed and measured the time it took until their balance broke. Anything below 5 seconds was abnormal. No problem, I thought.
Boy, was I wrong. No matter what I did, I could not keep my balance. As soon I as closed my eyes, I would sway like a hurricane-battered palm tree.
Five seconds was out of the question on the first attempt. And the second. And third. It was beyond embarrassing. Normally, I prided myself on a rather good sense of balance. So, what was happening? And what did it say about my ability to live longer?
Terrified, I added balance exercises to my routine, and I am happy to report that things have improved significantly since.
But let me ask you: When was the last time you did any balance exercises?
In truth, unless we work with a good personal trainer, or have some specific reason to focus on balance, like a previous fall (or reading a scary research article), we usually don’t pay balance any special attention.
Too bad, because the benefits of balance training are many.
What Are the Benefits?
It goes without saying: balance training decreases your risk of falling. You may think it is no big deal, unless, of course, you did fall in the past and understand the consequences first hand.