Balance Matters - Why?
Our sense of balance is a subject that touches every one of us–yet it’s the least understood of all our senses. Ask anyone to explain the function of the traditional five primary senses, and you may get reasonably well-informed answers. But ask them how balance works, and you’re likely to draw a blank.
Most of us take our sense of balance for granted – until we begin to lose it. All it takes is one bad fall to realize how precious balance is, and how insidiously it seems to diminish over time.
Yet without an understanding of how balance works, how can we expect to know how to keep from losing it? And we are losing it now in greater numbers than ever before, as an epidemic of debilitating falls sweeps America’s aging population.
But good balance isn’t just a concern for the over-60 crowd interested in preserving their health. Health clubs and physical therapy clinics have recently begun targeting balance as one of the most important–and most neglected–aspects of fitness. In gyms and clinics around the country, there’s a new focus on improving balance. Those who train their balance are finding they can perform better in everything from gardening to playing tennis.
In many ways it’s the most fundamental and essential of all our senses. It was one of the first senses to evolve in living things. Without balance we could not have evolved into the bipedal running primates we are. It probably played a role in our distant ancestors’ ability to find their way home after forays into unknown territory. It is so essential to our well-being, physically and perhaps even cognitively, that it deserves a place in the pantheon of other senses–and in our consciousness.Doing so will pay ample rewards. If more people understood it, fewer would fall every year (an estimated 10 million people over the age of 65 falls each year.) We would understand why our parents are losing their balance, and be equipped to slow down the loss in ourselves. More people might want to get off the couch and challenge their balance systems (many exercises are simple, require no equipment, and can be done standing quietly–in front of a television if necessary.) Perhaps some folks would change the way they look at fitness, because to train for balance means exercising in a specific way, strengthening but also coordinating muscle groups, focusing on certain areas of the body (hint: big biceps don’t give you better balance). As for cognitive gains, the jury is still out. But a number of surprising correlations exist between balance and such cognitive functions as learning, spatial knowledge, and dyslexia.