Fitness Is A Balancing Act

Is balance a sign of good fitness or is it a matter of practice makes perfect?    The fact is, balance is not necessarily a reflection of fitness.  Sure, it helps to have the muscle strength and eye-hand coordination that develops with exercise, but when it comes to balance, if you don’t use it you lose it.  We have an incredible ability to balance built into an equilibrium monitoring system in our inner ear, but the effectiveness of that system can deteriorate with disuse.

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Why do older folks have more problems with maintaining balance?  Is it loss of a center of gravity, nervous system control, inner ear problem, diminishing eye sight, or simply if you don’t use it you lose it? In my current favorite book, Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond, they say the loss of balance that comes with aging is a slowing down of reaction time. If you stub your toe when you are younger you can catch yourself, but when you’re older you are half way to the ground before you can stop the fall.

Whatever the reason for losing the ability to balance, it doesn’t take much practice to get back on track. Just a few weeks ago I had trouble balancing on a curb, and yesterday I filmed my skills walking on a narrow edge, perched 3 feet off the ground:

The best way to begin is by practicing on a 2×4 as demonstrated here by Erwan LeCorre of MovNat:

Once you master the 2×4 you can increase the element of danger and risk by putting some distance between yourself and the ground, and/or making the surface you are walking on less stable.  Attaching a slack-line between two trees is one of the best ways to test your weeble wobble skills. Slack-lining has become quite the rage around the globe.  If you want to try your hand (or should I say foot), at it, here are a few tips that will help get you off the ground.

  • Start with a short slack-line, closer to the ground, because it will be tighter and have less sway.
  • Going barefoot is the best way to get the feel of it.
  • When first stepping onto the slack-line, mount one end by holding onto the tree. As you progress you will be able to simply jump onto the line.
  • Place the slack-line between your big toe and second toe drawing an imaginary line down the center of your foot to your heel.
  • It is best to learn to balance on one foot first, and then attempt walking.
  • Let your arms, and free leg, swing around as  needed to maintain your balance.
  • Some people find it effective to hold the arms out to the side or overhead.
  • Hold onto long poles that can touch the ground (hiking sticks?), or have someone walk along side you as you hold their hand.
  • Don’t look straight down. Look 3-5 feet in front of you or at the end of the slack-line.
  • Maintain head and gaze stability.
  • Keep knees slightly bent, head up, arms out.

Once you master basic slack lining skills you can try performing tricks.  It’s so easy even a dog can do it!