A good balance improves the ability to learn and has an impact on the psyche. Time to train them!
Falls: According to the WHO, they are the second most common cause of fatal accidents worldwide after traffic accidents. Many people are probably aware that the risk of losing one’s balance increases with increasing age – but this is not a problem for seniors.
Sitting for too long and not exercising enough also causes young people to weaken the muscles that are supposed to keep them stable on their feet. Your balance, the ability to keep your body in balance, becomes worse and worse.
This is how the sense of balance works
Even if it seems completely irrelevant to us: maintaining balance and orienting ourselves in a world that consists of up and down, front and back, right and left is not an easy task for our bodies.
In order to master the balancing act, various sensory systems provide him with information: These include vision (optical system), the perception of the position and movement of one’s own body in space (proprioceptive system) and the balance organ (vestibular system).
The balance center in which all this information is bundled is located in the brain stem. As soon as the optical and proprioceptive notifications arrive, the current position in space is calculated within milliseconds and compared with movement sequences that we have learned throughout our lives.
The muscles and eyes are then supplied with commands that ensure that balance is maintained. Any corrective movements of the muscles then ensure that we move evenly and stably.
According to a study from England, ten-year-olds performed 20 percent worse on balance exercises in 2014 than their peers in 1994.
Today’s 20-year-olds are also more unsteady than they should be: Researchers at Winston-Salem State University found that millennials today are significantly weaker than adults in the 1980s. This has consequences: Previously, fall research focused on people aged 65 and over. Today it’s about the 50 year olds.
There are plenty of reasons to train our sense of balance even beyond fall prevention (a word that probably makes millennials dizzy just by looking at it).
1. Because we hurt ourselves less
The most obvious first: an improved sense of balance has a positive influence on the execution of a wide variety of movements. First and foremost, it trains our balance and our deep muscles in the back and torso. This can, among other things, save us from strains when jogging or doing a yoga session because our muscles react more efficiently.
What sounds abstract can be experienced wonderfully on the slackline: the first time you walk on the rope, your legs shake like crazy and the ground sways back and forth. The muscles react to this unusual strain too strongly and with a delay.
With a little practice, the leg muscles will soon be able to work without any problems: Starting with the feet, the small muscles around our tendons cushion the unstable movement better.
2. Because we go through life more explosively
Our coordination skills (which ensure movements with high precision, short reaction times to signals and spatial orientation) and motor skills also benefit.
Our brain especially needs motor skills for multiple movements, such as when we blow our nose while walking – something that becomes more difficult for us as we get older. Studies show that these skills improve with balance exercises.
But people who like more sporting action than blowing their noses also benefit from it: balance training particularly improves jumping power and the so-called “explosive power”, which ensures that we can quickly avoid an obstacle, for example. This reduces the risk of injury, especially when playing ball sports.
3. Because our ability to concentrate and learn improves
Researchers have found that cognitive tasks are harder to complete if you have to pay attention to balance. If you solve cognitively demanding tasks, you have a harder time balancing.
There is a direct connection between our cognitive abilities and balance, as a 2012 study from Germany shows: Children with a well-developed sense of balance performed significantly better in school than students with poor balance. But: Through targeted balance training, the children were able to significantly improve their performance in writing, arithmetic and reading.
4. Because psyche and balance are connected
But balance doesn’t play an important role physically: Studies show that mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders, depression and schizophrenia affect the ability to balance.
Proof of this is provided by the study that the neuropsychologist Ron Feldman from Tel Aviv University conducted with depressed people: He was able to show that people with depression tend to have a more stooped posture and often move significantly more slowly. If they stumble, there is a higher risk that they will perform the necessary compensatory movements too slowly.
What remains, however, is the question of what came first: the balance problems or the mental illnesses. But the fact that physical symptoms are not directly integrated into the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses is a missed opportunity, says Ron Feldman to the magazine “Spektrum”.
The connection between balance and mental health could potentially be used in a positive way: the neuropsychologist is certain that physical balance training could also benefit mental health.