Updated: Jul 12
Balance is often taken for granted. Most of us have no difficulty walking around in our daily lives, so we don’t realise how important balance is until it is impaired.
Like all other ageing phenomenons that occur throughout your life such as a reduction in muscle mass and bone density, our ability to maintain balance also declines with age. As a result, we become much more susceptible to falls which can lead to greater disability later in life.
In this blog, we will help you understand which systems in our body play a role in postural control and how you can practise balancing exercises to maintain optimal control of your body.
There are three main sensory systems that we rely on to maintain postural control: vision, proprioception (touch), and the vestibular system (head motion, equilibrium, spatial orientation). Injury, disease, certain drugs, or the ageing process can affect one or more of these components.
The visual system
Our vision is often the most relied upon out of the three systems. Have you ever tried to balance on one leg with your eyes closed? How about trying to find your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night in pitch black? With our vision, we are able to identify objects and hazards to maintain awareness of what is around us. If our vision is compromised, so is our balance.
The vestibular system
When the vestibular system is thrown off, we often begin to feel off-balance and/or dizzy. For example, do you remember as a kid when you would spin, and spin on a wheely chair and when you got off, you felt dizzy? That’s because altered signals are being sent to the brain compared to when you're on a stable surface.
Common conditions that can lead to changes in the vestibular system includes benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) and Meniere’s Disease. These conditions are treatable by physiotherapists specialising in vestibular disorders.
This system plays an important role in understanding where our body is in space as we perform movements. For example, have you ever rolled your ankle but was quick enough to correct your ankle position to prevent it from spraining? These are through sensors in the skin, joints and muscles which provide information to the brain regarding the position of body parts in relation to each other. With this information, the brain sends signals to instruct the muscles to move so it can make any adjustments to our body position.
Although our ability to balance declines with age, we are able to slow down the progression of this decline with exercise! Here are some exercises that we may prescribe to improve your balance.
*Always consult a physiotherapist for your specific condition.
Exercises for balance
Single leg squat - catch on bosu
Single leg RDL with foam roller
Ball toss to wall on foam pad
DiCarlo, J., Zoccolan, D., & Rust, N. (2012). How Does the Brain Solve Visual Object Recognition?. Neuron, 73(3), 415-434. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.01.010
Facts on falls. (2015). Retrieved 2 June 2021, from https://www.health.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0031/438376/falls-facts-info.pdf
Ivanenko, Y., & Gurfinkel, V. (2018). Human Postural Control. Frontiers In Neuroscience, 12. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2018.00171