Don’t underestimate the importance of good balance!

Welcome to Healthy Bones Action Week!

A week dedicated to encouraging people of all walks of life to invest in building and maintaining healthy bones. With this in mind we thought it would be a great time to discuss how exercise can impact the health of your bones.

As you may expect, bone strength is a crucial part of bone health. Our previous post “How strong are your bones?” explores this topic. We discuss the importance of building and maintaining bone strength, as well as identifying some exercise strategies to help achieve this.

But today, we thought we would explore a different aspect to maintaining bone health. If you think that keeping our bones strong is the only way to take care of them, you would be part of the majority.

When we think of bone health, strength is what first comes to mind. And although this is the primary indicator for bone health, it is also important to think about preventing the mechanism for bone fractures and breaks. In other words, if we can reduce our risk of falling over we also reduce our risk of damaging our bones. This is where balance joins the party!

The importance of balance

Having good balance is important for everyone, no matter the circumstances. For instance, high performance athletes need good balance to perform at the highest level of their sport. On the other hand, us average joe’s need good balance to perform various work responsibilities and daily tasks. 

When we think about it, our balance comes into play with our most common movements and activities. Walking (particularly on uneven surfaces like gravel), stair climbing, carrying groceries, washing the dishes, reaching the top shelf, and getting on and off a chair all require us to stay balanced. 

Even seated activities such as moving objects, folding the washing and working at a desk require us to maintain a good posture, and  stay balanced.

Often it is not until our balance starts to decline that we even realise how much we rely on good balance. Without it, we’d be falling on the ground creating the opportunity for a fracture or break.

Prevention is the best form of treatment.

How does our balance system work?

In summary, balance is our ability to maintain our body’s centre of mass over our base of support (the area between our feet). An optimally functioning balance system will allow us to:

      • Remain stable during various movements and activities
      • See clearly while moving
      • Identify orientation in respect to gravity
      • Determine direction and speed of movement
      • Maintain and make postural adjustments

This is achieved by a complex sensorimotor control system (utilising the sensory and motor systems). It involves an input of sensory information from our sight, proprioception (touch) and our vestibular system (inner ear). All of this information gets sent up into our brain to get processed and turns into a response. This response, which is typically muscular or movement based, will aim to either maintain our balance or make adjustments to regain our balance. 

Similar to how strength training uses resistance exercises, we need to complete balance specific exercises to develop and improve our balance.

Activities that help improve balance!

I hope you weren’t thinking that one size fits all in regards to balance training! There are three different ways to train our balance, which all work on different components. Let’s start with the two more common components: static and dynamic balance.

Static Balance

Static balance refers to our ability to balance when we are not moving around. Any activity that we complete while standing or sitting in one spot requires static balance.

Here are some great activities to help you start improving your static balance: Remember to alway practice in a safe space, away from items you could fall on. I like to practice at the kitchen bench, it is good height to help you recover if you need it.

      • Standing balance in different stances:
          • Feet together
          • Tandem stance (on foot in front of the other)
          • Semi-Tandem stance
          • Single leg stance.
      • Balancing on an uneven or unstable surface.

What’s amazing about these exercises is that they can all be done from the comfort of your own home! You can change your stance while standing at a bench watching TV, checking your emails, washing the dishes, folding some washing or while reading our “Tips for maintaining your health during a pandemic” post.

Just remember, we are challenging our balance and we may feel unstable. It is important to have something nearby, like a bench, table or chair that we can grab onto if we feel like we are going to fall. 

If you are feeling uncertain and would like some more guidance on what balance exercise is not only best for you, but is safe for you to do, contact us to speak with one of our Exercise Physiologists. 

We can organise a Telehealth appointment where we can create a balance program to match your specific needs. Once stage 4 restrictions have eased, we can also have face-to-face appointments or come to you for home visits.

Dynamic Balance

This is where we can get more creative with our training! Dynamic balance is the opposite to static balance – it refers to our ability to balance when we are moving. It doesn’t matter whether it is linear, lateral or rotational movement, all of it uses dynamic balance.

There is a wide variety of ways that we can train our dynamic balance. We can change out stance (as shown above), as well as stand or sit on an unstable surface while completing resistance exercises. You could also be more creative and use an activity like the ‘clock drill’ shown in the picture below. 

It is important to keep in mind that this type of training becomes very specific to your ability level, circumstances and goals. The most effective form of training is the one that is designed for you. And we are here to help! I know I have already mentioned this, but our Exercise Physiologists are specifically trained to provide you with the best exercises for you. Contact us if you are interested in organising an appointment.

The clock drill: a great example of dynamic balance training

Don't underestimate the
vestibular system!

One important part of our balance system that we need to train independently is our vestibular system. It is responsible for providing information about our motion and spatial orientation, as well as playing a crucial role in maintaining an equilibrium. What this means is it is responsible for keeping your ears level in relation to the ground.

Our natural tendency is to use our vision (looking at the horizon) and touch (foot on the ground) as feedback to help us stay balanced. As such, our vestibular system is often underused and undervalued. To compensate for this, we need to train it as independently as possible.

Training your vestibular system

One of the best ways to do this is to close our eyes, therefore removing all visual stimulus. By completing the static balance activities that we have previously spoken about with our eyes closed, we remove our visual feedback and rely more heavily on our vestibular system.

It is important to note, again, that this form of training is very dependant on your current ability and circumstances. Especially when it comes to using the eyes closed approach, the activities need to be tailored for you! It is important to ensure you are practicing in a safe place and to build up and gradually progress towards this type of exercise. 

Our Exercise Physiologists specialise in this type of gradual progression and will be able to prescribe the best exercises for you. I’m hoping that the third time is the charm and that you do decide to contact us. I know it is repetitive, but I can’t stress enough the importance of seeking professional advice to make sure you exercise safely while getting the most out of your training. We look forward to hearing from you to start your journey!

Check out our previous posts!

Keep your eyes open for more posts coming in the near future – there will be a new post every Wednesday!

In the meantime, here are some related posts that may interest you:

And here is a little sneak peek into some posts that will be coming your way over the next few weeks:

      • Exercise for mental health 
      • Exercise and Asthma
      • How to exercise when you don’t have time 

Also, keep an eye out for our brand new series “How I live strong and prosper”. In this series we’ll be chatting with Simply Stronger clients and finding out what they do to live strong and prosper!

Please leave a comment below if you have any topic ideas that you would like us to discuss!

We are here to help!

Exercise Physiologists specialise in helping people identify the type of exercise that will help them achieve their goals – not just in a gym with weights, but to include in your everyday life! If you would like some assistance in determining the best type fo exercise for you to help you achieve your goals, contact us to organise an appointment to see one of our Exercise Physiologists.

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References and useful resources

Vestibular Disorder Association et al. (2016), “The Human Balance System”,  viewed 18/08/2020, https://vestibular.org/article/what-is-vestibular/the-human-balance-system/the-human-balance-system/

Photos provided by Jeremy Thomas and Jon Flobrant via Unsplash.com

How strong are your bones?

Osteoporosis and its precursor osteopenia are sneaky little diseases, showing very few signs until someone has a fracture. How then can we know if we are at risk?

As we age the mineral density of our bones naturally decreases, due to hormonal changes reducing the strength of our bones. For women who have experienced menopause this is at an increased rate as the reductions in oestrogen speed up the process. However, men you are definitely not immune as the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that one in three women and one in five men over 50 will experience and osteoporotic fracture.

  • 1:3 women & 1:5 men of 50 years of age are at risk of fracture.
  • Any of your 206 bones can be affected.
  • Osteoporosis and osteopenia are characterised by a loss of bone mineral density (BMD).
  • Exercise can help to improve the strength of your bones, reducing the risk of developing the disease and for those already living with reduced BMD, can slow the progress significantly.

Testing:

Through a DXA scan BMD is commonly measured at the hip and lumbar spine and upon request by your doctor they may also measure your wrist. The results from this test are then compared to that of healthy young adult.  

Bone Status

T-Score

Normal

≥ -1.0

Osteopenia

-1.0  -2.5

Osteoporosis

≤ -2.5

Severe Osteoporosis

≤ -2.5 & at least one fragility fracture

How can exercise help?

Loading your bones through resistance and body weight training are great ways of stimulating growth, making your bones stronger. As our muscles all connect to bones via tendons when we complete resistance training this pulls directly on the bones forcing them to adapt and get stronger.

Additionally, we can use our own body weight to stimulate this process also. Through walking, running, jumping, skipping and some other lower impact exercises,  we can create a vibration in our skeletal system that in turn stimulates an increase in BMD. 

It is important to remember that some of these exercises may be of too high an impact for some people living with Osteoporosis in its progressive stages. It is therefore very important to seek the advice of an exercise professional to guide you through this process safely.

At Simply Stronger we can tailor an exercise program which will not only improve your BMD, reducing your risk of Osteoporosis and Osteopenia and also reducing your risk of a fracture, simply by reviewing your balance. There are several systems within our bodies that impact our balance and through some simple testing, we can establish in which areas we can create the greatest improvements in your body. We even have a balance specific class, Simply Balance available to improve all these systems in a fun and engaging atmosphere.

References and useful website:

Skeletan photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

The Garvan Institute “Know your bones consumer report 2018” ; knowyourbones.org.au

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) – Osteoporosis snapshot

Osteoporosis Australia 

WHO scientific group on the assessment of osteoporosis at a primary health care level.