3 Simple Ways to Improve Balance

With the change of seasons, we often change our activities, and that’s when we can become aware that we don’t feel as steady or as strong as we’d like.

Maybe you’re getting back to the tennis court after the winter, or exercising outside rather than in the gym. Or maybe you’re just in need of a change. But is your balance good enough, or does it also need some attention?

If you haven’t been challenging it recently, the chances are your balance isn’t as strong as it was. The good news is that by adding balance exercises today, your body will soon respond, and your balance will improve. As with any exercise program, take advice from a professional fitness instructor or physical therapist and start easy. Don’t put yourself at risk of injury.

  • Stand up: In order to challenge your balance, you need to be using it. While many exercises that include sitting or lying can deliver health benefits, they won’t help your balance specifically. Make sure you include movements where you are standing or moving on your feet.
  • Use your legs: The muscles at the front and back of the legs, and the butt, are the most important muscles when it comes to your balance. And most of us don’t challenge them enough. Squats and lunges are important to do properly in order to protect your knees and back. If you’re not sure, get advice from someone who can watch your form and make sure you’re doing them correctly. You can also do this sit-stand exercise from the CDC.
  • Do it every day: You don’t have to throw heavy weights around, but incorporating a few balance exercises into your daily life will help it improve faster. If you can stand on one leg, try doing it while brushing your teeth, for example. Once a balance exercise become easy, it’s time to think about increasing the level of challenge, there are a number of tools available to help you do this.

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Free Balance Screenings

If you’re in Houston over the next week, come and talk to us, we’ll be out in the community. Get a free balance screening, find out how your habits impact your balance and enter to win a free personal balance consultation with Dr Katharine Forth, our human motor control expert.

Thursday April 11, 8-10am & Wednesday April 17, 9-11

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My Lucky Escape

good balance means you can live your life

Judy, a sprightly grandmother who prides herself on fully participating in her community, was unhappy when we called to see her.

We were visiting her upmarket independent living apartment in order to understand the typical fluctuations in balance over time for people going about their daily lives.

Judy was subdued: she had fallen, and although she hadn’t broken anything, she was scared of it happening again.

I feel I had a lucky escape this time,” she said.

Judy and a number of her friends had signed up to be part of our balance study where they would measure their balance as often as they liked, reporting on their daily health habits and any falls they experienced.

Since starting the study a month earlier, Judy had been scoring 3/10, which meant in the danger zone for falling. That day, Judy scored just 2/10. She was afraid her life was about to change, that she would have to give up her full social life and travel plans. “Aging’s not for sissies,” she said. “But it’s better than the alternative.”

Judy found that, after the first weeks of physical therapy, she began to feel stronger and was enjoying exercise classes at the apartments, as well as using the equipment at a nearby gym. Within 2 months she was scoring 5/10 (in the moderate zone).

“I can’t believe it!” she told us excitedly when we visited.

“I got a 5!” she called out to one of her friends.

When her physical therapy ended, she enrolled in a balance exercise class, and for the rest of the year, her balance scores were in the moderate zone. She visited family at the other end of the country, enjoying the freedom she felt.

When the Holidays came round and the exercise classes took a break, Judy turned her energies to organising social events with friends. She was alarmed to see her balance score drop to 3/10 again.

“I knew I had to keep myself moving,” she said. “I really notice it now if I take a couple of weeks off.

how measuring balance can prevent a fall

The following year, Judy was delighted to get into the green zone for balance. “I feel pretty good about getting 7/10 at my age,” she said. “Even though it isn’t high every time, it’s like a little challenge to myself to see how close I can get.”

“Measuring my balance has really opened my eyes as to how much my balance changes and how the little things I do every day have such a big impact.”

Should I Care if I Wobble?

should I care

What can measuring your balance do for you? You might already track your steps or heart rate. What is the benefit in adding something else?

Ellen is a long time runner, and personal trainer, who became interested in measuring balance. This is her story.

“At first, I was really disappointed to score only 4/10. Even though I know only elite athletes sometimes score 10/10, I secretly hoped I might at least be close. Especially since I train other people and feel like I know how to get the best out of my body, I expected to score high.

Then I thought about it, and realized, I spend so much time helping others achieve their goals, I was neglecting my own needs. It had been a while since my last event, so I wasn’t training to a goal. When I demonstrate an exercise, it’s just that – a demo, I’m not doing it as a work out for myself. I realized I needed to do more for me.

The first thing I put back into my personal routine were lunges. They’re an exercise many people avoid as they’re uncomfortable, but that’s where their power lies. You’re offset, your ‘strong’ side can’t compensate for the weaker side, and you have to concentrate. You can’t do it without concentrating, and that’s exactly why it helps. If you haven’t done them before, get some help to check your form: your hips should be level and square, and your front knee mustn’t go forward of your toes.

lunges for balance

Over the next week, my balance score fluctuated between 5 and 7. Finally, I reached the green zone, and I knew I was doing the right things for me. But I still wasn’t scoring as high as I thought I should be.

I scheduled an overdue appointment with my chiropractor, who warned me not to expect sudden change after my treatment. Sure enough, that day, my score dipped to 6, but the next day and the days since then, I’ve been scoring 8’s.

I’ve started to see balance as a check that I’m doing the right things, not just in terms of exercise, but also with my overall health. It reminds me of when I trained with a running specialist. There’s always a piece you can gain by seeking out the experts. My body can tell me how I really am through my balance.  I just have to listen to it.

Now that you understand what affects your balance, buy a Zibrio SmartScale and start tracking your balance today.

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You’re going to love this. We’ve talked and researched and planned and tested. Then refined and tested and modified and improved. We’re so excited to share with you the next stage, the one that will matter most to you.

And the wait is nearly over!

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Give Your Balance Some Love

We spend most of our lives neglecting it, yet we depend on it for basic functioning. What would these simple tasks be like without balance?

  • Walking
  • Reaching into / up to a shelf or cupboard
  • Dancing
  • Getting up from a bed
  • Sitting down in a chair
  • Going up stairs
  • Playing your favorite game or sport
  • Closing your eyes for a romantic kiss

They all use multiple parts of the systems that make up our balance. So isn’t it time you gave your balance some love to keep it going strong? The nice thing about balance is that it’s not very high maintenance. It doesn’t demand outrageous commitment (unless your need outrageous balance).

For those of you who aren’t into slacklining 3,000 feet above a valley floor, helping your balance can be as simple as adding a couple of exercises to your gym routine. Or standing on one leg while brushing your teeth (obviously don’t do this if you feel it’s too difficult – see our balance training guide).

As well as training the neuromuscular system, exercises like Tai Chi, squats and lunges help with leg strength, which can be a key part of what is missing as people age. Even those who run regularly can benefit from the greater range of movement delivered by these exercises, and from working different sets of muscles.

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How Trendy is your Workout?

is your fitness on trend

The American College of Sports Medicine releases an annual survey on fitness trends each year. Want to know how trendy you are? Looking for the next cool thing to spice up your exercise commitment? Zibrio took a look at the results on your behalf.

ACSM surveys fitness professionals around the world, and look for trends, not flash-in-the-pan fads that won’t last. They’re designed to help fitness professionals and community centers decide what to invest in for their customers.

#1: Wearables

Up from #3 spot last year, wearables are once again high on everyone’s list. Whether you use them to track what you do, or remind you what to do when, they’re becoming the new standard.

#4: Older Adult Fitness

This has been in the top 10 for the last few years, rising from #9 last year as more people who’ve grown up with the fitness movement grow into the ‘over 50’ category. Baby boomers and the generations before them often have more time to exercise, value group exercise and can take advantage of the quieter times at the gym while younger generations are at work. Thanks to organizations like Silver Sneakers, YMCA, and other big gym franchises, this age group has more variety than ever to choose from: lower impact exercise classes, and balance specific workouts. There are also increasing numbers of personal trainers who are qualified to help mature exercisers with their health goals.

#10: Exercise as Medicine

This phrase is everywhere in 2019, along with its cousin, ‘food as medicine’. The medical establishment is increasingly citing the benefits of exercise, and not just for heart health or to manage weight. Many chronic pain conditions can be improved – or at least the symptoms can be managed – with the right type of exercise. There are even reports from the United Kingdom of doctors prescribing dancing to some patients!

#13: Mobile Apps

As fitness tracking moves to your wrist, apps available for your phone continue to grow in variety and scope: watch videos of how to do a particular exercise, take photos of your own workout, manually add untracked activities to your profile. Their usefulness and improved user interface pushes this trend up from #26 last year.

#16: Outcome Measurements

Possibly the most useful trend of all. If you’re spending all that time, effort and money on the classes and apps and healthy habits, you’d want to know they were working, right? Weight measurement has been around for a while. Now, especially when working with a personal trainer, you can measure a host of other outcomes that show you’re becoming a fitter, better you.

5 Simple Ways to Start The New Year Right

get in balance

Do you make resolutions at the start of a new year? Or do you think they’re just a waste of time (seeing as most people have given up by mid February)?

Or perhaps you’re completely contented with where your life is, in which case, we salute you! But for most of us, there are at least some tweaks we’d like to make, or goals we’d like to chase.

But promising to do something (or give up doing something) for a whole year can be unbelievably daunting. No wonder we fail.

Here at Zibrio, we put our heads together and brainstormed our most successful strategies for making things stick.

  1. Start Small: What can you do today towards your goal? 5 minutes of balance exercises are easy to fit in. Set an alarm to go to bed 10 minutes earlier tonight. Then repeat tomorrow. Soon, you’ll have stuck with your goal for a whole week, then two.
  2. Go Big: Think of something you really want that seems difficult. Running a half marathon, dropping a dress size before your daughter’s wedding. Imagine your feeling of triumph should you achieve it, think about it in great detail. Then break it down into weekly achievements. Get going on week one today.
  3. Be Accountable: It doesn’t matter if you’re using an app to count steps or sleep, or whether you put notches in your bedpost, but count the days you succeed in your new habit. It can be immensely motivating to look back after a month and see what you’ve managed to achieve.
  4. Reward Yourself: Yes, this can be as simple as bribing yourself with a new pair of shoes / going to the movies / having a slice of cake. Put it on a planner so that when you achieve the goal it belongs to, the reward feels justified. Set small rewards for early on, then space them out a bit to keep them feeling satisfying.
  5. Be Kind: Some days won’t go as planned. You’ll have a bad night’s sleep, or catch a cold. #life’snotperfect. Let it go. Think of one positive thing you can do that’s aligned with your goal, even if it’s not your goal. For example, if you don’t have time for that longer sleep, take 5 minutes for some mindfulness meditation to help you recharge. Then get back to the habit tomorrow.

As always, if you’re making a big change in your health behaviours, it’s a good idea talking it over with your doctor first. She or he can help point you towards resources, as well as help you make sure you’re not putting yourself at risk for injury.

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Sleep Has Major Impact on Balance: New Study Shows

A team of researchers from the University of Warwick, in the UK, has  published research showing that poor quality sleep reduces a person’s ability to balance the next day.

The research was conducted on healthy adults with no history of sleep problems, and ranging in age from 24-34. They were monitored over two days in their own homes using latests sensors to measure their quality of sleep. Their balance was measured in a gait lab, and other information was gathered in the form of sleep diaries and questionnaires.

The researchers say the results are very clear:

Subjects with a day-to-day deterioration in sleep quantity and quality … exhibited significant changes in balance. Conversely, subjects with no significant alterations in sleep quantity and quality showed no significant changes in [balance measurements].

The study has some limitations as there were only 20 participants, and did not include a very wide age range, but the team hypothesize that if young, healthy adults suffer poorer balance after sleep disruption, then the effect on older adults is likely to be even greater.

When tired, the study participants showed significantly worse balance when tested with eyes closed vs eyes open, compared to those who had rested well, meaning that we rely on vision even more when fatigued, and vision is typically worse in older adults than in younger people, exacerbating the effect on stability and balance.

This research demonstrates something many people can identify with – a feeling of wobbliness after a wakeful or disturbed night. Being tired really does put you at greater risk of falling, because your ability to balance, and react to outside events, is lower when tired.

How to Sleep Better

Daily habits have an effect on our sleep, and experts recommend keeping a sleep diary for a couple of weeks to help work out where improvements can be made.

Improvement advice falls into 3 areas:

  • What you put into your body
  • Your sleep environment
  • Your mental state

It’s best to avoid heavy meals, alcohol or caffeine before bed, and also to reduce any liquid consumption in the evening, to avoid late night bathroom visits.

Keep work and other electronic devices away from your bedroom, make it a peaceful, cool environment that you use only for sleeping and intimacy.

Set an alarm to help you get 7 hours of sleep, and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Make sleep a priority, but don’t get anxious about it. If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get up and read a book. Allow yourself to simply rest. Practise mindfulness or meditative breathing.

Making sure that you get some exercise every day is another way of improving your quality of sleep.

Click here to read the original research, published in Nature

 

Holiday Balance Tips

have your cake and eat it

The holidays should be a time for celebration with family and friends, but often, in the endless round of preparation, shopping and parties, one of the first things to be sacrificed are the habits that keep us healthy.

But you don’t have to sacrifice your balance – or your health, if you keep in mind some simple tricks:

  1. Small actions help. Give yourself 5-10 minutes in the morning to do some light exercise: yoga stretches, Tai Chi sequences, anything that fires the connection between brain and muscles. If you don’t have time in the morning, fit it in later in the day.
  2. Use the dead time. When brushing your teeth, or waiting in line at the store, practise standing on one leg, the other raised just off the floor. Make sure there is something sturdy nearby to keep you safe should you need it.
  3. Keep moving. You don’t even need your workout clothes. Take every opportunity to get up and move around, or choose to stand instead of sit, and walk instead of drive wherever possible.
  4. Drink water. Dehydration adds to fatigue, which is bad for balance. We don’t feel as thirsty in the colder weather, so make a point of drinking water often. Added bonus: nutritionists recommend starting every party with a glass of water to cut down on the empty calories.
  5. Protect your sleep. Set an alarm if necessary, and get to bed in time to get a full night’s rest. But don’t beat yourself up if you can’t avoid some late nights. Enjoy them! and try to give yourself some extra rest the following day. Even a 5-10 minute period of meditation or mindfulness can help soothe a tired nervous system and combat holiday stress.

For further information on the many influences on your balance and how to help them, check out our:

Free ebook

 

Wishing you a better balanced holiday season this year.