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

4 tips to help everyone stay limber and focused at your desk!

The inspiration for this post came from a teacher. They were asking about strategies and tips for helping kids survive the many hours they now spend at a desk. 

So here we are – let’s have a chat about how we can help students in the classroom. More specifically, let’s dive into the ideas and concepts relating to a great sitting posture, relieving tension, and using movement to regain focus. All of which will help your students stay loose and focussed throughout a long day of studying. Simply Stronger’s amazing Director, Sara, will be taking you through the journey to discover the four important ways that we can help your students achieve this.

#1 - Sitting posture

The first tip revolves around our posture while sitting. In the following video, Sara will demonstrate and explain the two key points that will help your students maintain a good sitting posture.

The two important messages to remember are to sit on top of your sit bones and shine your chest torch forwards. Once explained and understood, these two cues are very simple ways to quickly remind your students and yourself of the ideal sitting position.

#2 - Desk stretching

I’m sure all of us frequently experience stiffness and tightness while sitting at a desk for a prolonged period. I can imagine that you have been experiencing this yourself, as well as your students, whether  studying/working in the classroom or from home! In the next video Sara will take us through a variety of stretches that can help us reduce that stiffness and stay nice and loose.

Remember, these stretches can help relax and loosen up your bodies, all while staying at your desk:

    1. Lateral Neck Stretch
    2. Levator Scapula Stretch (another neck stretch)
    3. Shoulder Stretch
    4. Wrist Extensor Stretch
    5. Wrist Flexor Stretch

Make sure these stretches are done on both sides of your body, that you take long deep breaths and that you hold the stretch for around 20 seconds at a time.

This is by no means an extensive list of stretches, but a few very good ones to get your started. If you use any alternative stretches, or have an idea for a different stretch or area of your body you would like us to show you, let us know in the comments below!

#3 - Getting mobile

Although the desk stretches are a great place to start, there is nothing better than getting up and moving about after sitting in a chair for a long time. In this video, Sara will show you some exercises that will help your students get moving, loosen up and get rid of that tension building up in their body – especially through their back and hips!

Don’t be shy here, you know it will feel great to try it yourself!

The exercises that you can use to get your students moving are:

    1. Happy puppy, sad puppy
    2. Roll down
    3. Windmill
    4. Knee tucks
    5. Rotations

Remember, these activities can be completed in the classroom, in between classes or while studying at home. It could be a great option to encourage students to try an exercise in the middle of a class to help break up their sitting time.

#4 - Getting your heart pumping

Finally, it’s time to get our heart pumping and get that blood flowing! This is especially important for students to regain focus or maintain their concentration throughout the day. I’ll now pass it over to Sara who will explain and demonstrate some great activities to help with this.

These are the activities that are a great place to start:

    1. Arm swings
    2. High knees
    3. Arm circles (both ways)
    4. Star jumps
    5. Heel kicks

Remember, we are looking for around 20 repetitions of these exercises at a high pace to get our heart rate up – slow and steady won’t win this race!

Of course, this is a great starting point, but there are many great activities out there. If you use a different activity with your students or have an idea of a different exercise, let us know in the comments below!

Not just for teachers and students!

Although these tips have been designed specifically for teachers and their students, they can be applied to any situation that involves prolonged sitting time. Whether you are studying, teaching, working from home or you regularly work from a desk, these tips can help you! Remember, it’s all about reducing tension and staying loose to help us stay comfortable, focussed and productive!

If you do have injuries that prevent you from completing any of these exercises get in touch and we will help you to modify them.

Want to know more?

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:

      • Hey kids, did you know exercise can be fun?
      • Exercise for mental health 
      • Strategies to overcome obstacles
      • Strengthening your bones

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 members 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.

References

Photos provided by NeONBRAND via Unsplash.com

Sitting – is it really that bad?

We all do it … some for eight hours a day at work and then get into the car or on public transport to continue the trend for the commute back home.

So, what is it about this practice that is so problematic?

Despite the trend towards remaining stationary, we are actually built to move maybe not continuously but certainly regularly throughout the day. When we sit, we stay there for extended periods of time, generally looking at the same thing for most of that time. Whether this is working at a desk, driving (or another form of commuting), reading, watching TV, going to the cinema, the theatre or even watching sport – we sit still.

Our bodies are built to move, they want to move, and we train them to become good at remaining stationary.

I like to use the analogy of water 💧 .

 Picture a body of water, big or small – it doesn’t matter. The beautiful natural images that come to mind are those that flow and move constantly, rivers, oceans and lakes. However, when you picture puddles and still bodies of water – they are stagnant and unhealthy places where mosquitoes come to breed. Nearly 60% of our body is made up of water which presumably wants to move given that this is its natural state. Continuing with the analogy, by remaining still, the water in our bodies is stagnating. Obviously, this isonly an analogy with no basis in fact, but it does conjure up a strong image, don’t you think?

 

What can we do to improve our situation? No one is asking you to change jobs, move closer to your workplace and walk or ride a bike.

These are often very impractical solutions but there are ways of getting more movement into your day. Let us start by thinking about some of the ways in which we have developed technology to increase productivity and let’s be honest here – increases in productivity have been great advancements, yes, but they have also led to a much more sedentary lifestyle.

 

From construction equipment to computers, from sewing machines to (my personal pet peeve) leaf blowers, they have all made our lives much easier and have allowed us to advance in often incredible ways, yet they now also allow us to move so much less.

Now I’m not saying we need to build our homes by hand or sew our own clothes instead of shopping for them but what I am saying is look at the technological advancements in your life and see if you can take a step back.

Here are some simple ways to move a little more:

  • Walk and have a conversation instead of always calling or sending an email.
  • Take the stairs, not the lift.
  • Walk up the escalator rather than standing still, waiting to be carried.
  • If you must drive to work or the train station, try to park 500m away or more to ensure you do a little extra walking at the start and end of your day.
  • Sweep the floor, rather than always reaching for the vacuum.
  • Rake your leaves rather than blowing them into the street. Seriously I hate this invention but if you must use one then blow them into a pile and pick them up.

There are so many ways in which we can add a little bit more activity into our day!

We just need to stop and think a little.

Let us know some of your ideas in the comments below and help others to move their bodies a little more often.

To find out more about a personalised plan to increase your daily exercise contact Simply Stronger.