Most of us don’t think of our balance as something that is complex. It’s something we take for granted. However, balance is a complex system and after a certain age it must be maintained both in mind and body.
We depend on numerous systems in the body to help keep us steady on our feet and upright. The inner ear plays a role as does the somatosensory system, which relays the feeling of the ground under your feet. Vision helps us notice obstacles around us. The brain processes all the information from these systems, plans a movement and then executes it.
As we age, balance can become more challenging. Cognition plays a bigger role as we get older. Both mental and physical fitness can help you stay solid on your feet.
A sharp mind helps improve brain health, decision making, reaction time, and can focus your attention. Believe it or not, staying mentally active plays a critical role in helping us avoid falls — particularly as we age. General physical fitness and targeted exercises can improve your balance and in turn help prevent falls. When combined with strength exercises, you can improve your ability to control and maintain your body’s position, whether you’re moving or standing still.
You can perform balance exercises almost anywhere and anytime — just be sure you have something sturdy nearby to hold on to should you become unsteady. As you become stronger and steadier on your feet, you can modify exercises and further challenge yourself as you progress.
A winning combination
Taking part in exercises that work both the mind and body are a winning combination. Tai chi and Qigong are two such exercise programs that involve moving gently through a series of poses. The programs can be easily adapted for all ages and fitness abilities.
Tai chi, often referred to as meditation in motion, is an ancient type of exercise that has been practiced in China for hundreds of years. This ancient art helps promote balance, strength, flexibility, and serenity through gentle, slow, and graceful movements — making it accessible to anyone regardless of age or level of physical fitness. Regularly practicing tai chi can also help improve coordination and circulation and relieve stress.
Qigong is also an ancient Chinese practice of balancing focusing on gentle dance-like movements. Qigong uses fluid motion to move energy, strengthen the body, clear the mind, and increase flexibility. Qigong also incorporates breathing techniques and focused intentions. By regularly practicing qigong, you may reduce your stress, increase your stamina, improve balance, and enhance immune function. This practice has also been found to improve cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic, and digestive functions.
Reap the benefits
Maintaining mental fitness, remaining physically active, and practicing mind–body exercises like tai chi, qigong, or others, can help you keep your balance, avoid stumbling, and prevent falls. Strive to make balance training a forethought in your workouts. This way you can really reap the benefits of improved balance, coordination, posture, core strength, and agility. These are the skills you want to carry with you as you age to build confidence and prevent those spills and falls.
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For more information on balance exercises visit nih.seniorhealth.gov.