Power of Balance
Jan 10, 2011 08:38PM
● By Anonymous
Amazingly, cats always seem to land on their feet. They have an innate ability (the “righting reflex”) to sense and correct orientation, even in midair. Of course, the ability to land on one’s feet does not guarantee nine lives, but it’s still pretty cool. So what about the feline’s evolutionary superior owners? Surprisingly, Homo sapiens have many righting reflexes as well, which are controlled by our intricate balance system. For example, our brains are constantly processing signals from our inner ears and visual cues from our eyes in an attempt to keep us from falling over. We forget how hard our bodies work to keep us upright because we were walking by two, running by three, and driving Power Wheels by four.
Despite our love for perpetual motion, we continue to fall. Data recently released by the CDC showed that in 2006, eight million people were treated in emergency departments because of fall-related injuries. (Interestingly, 90,000 of these falls were associated with household pets.) Ironically, we are balance connoisseurs with everything except our bodies—always trying to find the perfect equity between work, friends and family. We balance our checking accounts and the food pyramid, but how do we balance our physical selves?
We can start by understanding a little bit about how our bodies maintain balance. Physiological balance is controlled by several body systems—the visual, skeletal (bones, muscles, joints) and vestibular (inner ear) system— and, no surprise, it’s complicated stuff. The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, one of the National Institutes of Health, describes balance as the brain receiving, processing, and comparing visual cues about the body’s alignment to information from our bones, muscles, joints, and ears. No wonder watching a child learn to walk is such a daunting experience. Balance is not inherent; it is a culmination of our senses and our ability to use them correctly, and often we don’t or can’t because of everyday distractions.
Most of us think of falling as only affecting the frail and weak or the sky-diving-adrenaline-junkies, but this is not so. Everyone falls at some point, and then there are the near misses: the sliding through leaves; the tripping over toys; the bumping into counters; the high heels; the slippery floors; the icy sidewalks. Balance is an important part of staying on top of things, both figuratively and literally. The good news is it just takes a bit of common sense and some organization of our cluttered homes to keep balance in our stride. Oh, and most importantly, some acknowledgment that, yes, we, those who walk upright, have to work at this thing called balance.
Balance issues can cause myriad side effects including—falls, dizziness, lightheadedness, visual blurriness, sprained ligaments, and strained muscles.
Here are a few ways to stay in line:
Are Your Meds Making You Wobbly?
Medications are an increasingly important part of our lives especially as our population ages. Last year’s National Pharmacist Month slogan was “Know Your Medicine, Know Your Pharmacist.” Pharmacists offer a wealth of information regarding medication and its effects on the body. If you’re suffering from a balance issue, ask your pharmacist if any of your medications may be to blame.
Dehydration can occur any time of the year. The Mayo Clinic lists dizziness as a symptom of mild to moderate dehydration. Did you know that if you’re thirsty, odds are, you’re already dehydrated? The USDA says that you’re probably drinking enough fluid if you rarely feel thirsty and your urine is colorless, but a good baseline is six to eight cups of water a day.
The Art of Balance
Balance is the act of constantly moving to maintain one’s center of gravity. It does not include standing still. Dancing allows us to practice deliberate movements that force us to maintain our equilibrium while in motion. Private and group dance classes range anywhere from single to monthly sessions and include Friday night dance parties, salsa, ballroom, swing, jazz, tap, belly dancing, and more. Often a studio will let new students participate in their first class for free.
Balance Made Easy
The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports promotes simple exercises to increase agility in order to help prevent falls. The council lists vision changes, which precipitate the need for multi-focal glasses, and untoned muscles as contributing to falls. We might not be able to prevent aging eyes, but we can certainly stretch our legs. Go to www.fitness.gov/pepup.htm
for some easy to follow stretches.
Your shoes may contribute to improper balance, but if you can’t live without a certain
pair of heels, a new shoe insert may prevent falls. The product website claims that the Insolia
Weight Shift Solution® restores balance by improving body alignment and ankle stability. Even cooler, Insolia® was developed by a podiatrist and a rocket scientist (from MIT), and it carries the American Podiatric Medical Association seal of approval.