I made a new friend recently. She, like me, is 50 (something) and a bit of a tomboy, in that she has been active and sporty all her life. Then just over a year ago, she had a car accident and four days later when trying to answer a question at work, nothing came out of her mouth. She just couldn’t find the words. Moments later, she said to her colleague: I think I’ve hurt my brain.
There is a lot of current online buzz about brain health. Listening to CBC Radio this morning they were talking about particulate matter – from city pollution – and the cognitive impact.
Then I happened upon this study that found that an important test for brain health is the ability to balance on one leg. Yasuharu Tabara, Ph.D., and lead study author and associate professor at the Center for Genomic Medicine says that:
Individuals showing poor balance on one leg should receive increased attention, as this may indicate an increased risk for brain disease and cognitive decline.
The study consisted of 841 women and 546 men, with average age of 67. To measure one-leg standing time, participants stood with their eyes open and raised one leg. They performed the leg raise twice and the better of the two times was used in the study analysis. Small blood vessel disease of the brain was evaluated using magnetic resonance imaging.
The researchers found that the inability to balance on one leg for longer than 20 seconds was associated with vascular disease in the brain, specifically small areas of tissue death (mini strokes) without symptoms. They noted that:
- 34.5 % of those with more than two lesions (infarctions) had trouble balancing.
- 16 % of those with one lesion had trouble balancing.
- 30 % of those with more than two micro bleeds had trouble balancing.
- 15.3 % of those with one micro bleed had trouble balancing.
“One-leg standing time is a simple measure of postural instability and might be a consequence of the presence of brain abnormalities,” said Tabara.
Although this study is not saying that poor balance causes brain disease and/or cognitive decline, the inability to balance for at least 20 seconds, may suggest brain abnormalities. So poor balance suggests poor brain health, but can improving balance improve our brain health as we age? Now that’s a great research question!
Personally, I like to err on the side of caution with my own health. I’m not comfortable with pill popping and I’m definitely not waiting for signs of aging (other than my quickly greying hair and ever-creasing skin argh). I’ve incorporated balance exercises into my daily posture routine.
Get the balance right
Balance shouldn’t be a concern just for the elderly who are more prone to falls (and the serious complications those falls can cause). Balance training is important for anyone who wants to age well, avoid falls, improve athletic ability, coordination, stamina and overall fitness and health.
If you haven’t thought much about maintaining, or improving your balance, now is a good time to start.
In order to have good balance, we rely on the information given to our brain from three main body systems: our ears, the nerve endings in our muscles, and our eyes (vision).
As children, we develop balance climbing trees (where I spent many hours climbing up, up, up to collect long forgotten bird nests), riding our bikes, walking and running on uneven surfaces and playing sport and games. As adults, we seldom think about balance and rarely practice it.
When was the last time you climbed a jungle gym with your kids, walked along the slim surface of a forest log or tried to balance on one leg whilst brushing your teeth with the opposite hand (I love this one)?
The eyes have it
Your sense of vision is a big part of good balance. Vision works hand in hand with the inner ear to maintain balance. If you move your eyes or take vision out of the equation altogether, it’s harder to balance. You might be surprised how challenging it is to simply stand with your eyes closed. We play around a lot with removing vision during some of the more advanced balance exercises in our posture school.
Better balance means better coordination, POSTURE, core strength, agility and athletic skill. You even burn calories using balance training!
Balance training is good for people of every age, so don’t be afraid to start incorporating balance exercises into your daily workouts. Everyone can benefit from balance training and even better if our ability to balance keeps our brains young, sharp and disease-free!