Exercise: Balance

“Exercise – how do I do that?”

Many people think exercise means a basketball game or mowing the lawn once a week – or a strenuous workout on Sunday followed by several days of regret. Back in the nineteenth century exercise was how you lived your life. Every activity of daily living required fairly strenuous and continuous exercise. But in our modern society of convenience and technology, exercise has to be planned into daily life.

In review – there are four basic exercise modes – cardiovascular, stretching, strength training and balance.  Our last health article discussed strength training, especially for the arms and legs. Now we’re talking about balance and the core muscles.

The muscles that line the center of the body – around the spine, chest and abdomen – make up the “core” musculature. These muscles provide a firm foundation, control and stability – a solid platform from which the arms and legs can function. An upright posture is the result of core balance and strength.

Each of these areas of the core – balance and strength – can be addressed at the same time through any one or a combination of routines.

  1. Pilates is a system of stretching and strengthening core muscles that combines positions and exercises on a mat with some special equipment exercises. It is usually done in a group with a trainer/leader and is most effective when a personal trainer designs a course of exercise specifically for you. Some of the basic moves can be used with other forms of core muscle work.
  2. Yoga is a system of body positions that are moved into and held for a time period, usually as a part of a mat exercise routine. These positions stretch and strengthen specific muscle groups. An entire routine will move you through all the muscle groups, especially the core muscle groups. It is most easily learned in a group setting with a teacher. Once you know the routine and some of the basic positions, you can design your own routine that flows from one position to the next.
  3. Core muscles are exercised best as a part of routines that involve groups of muscles, rather than the strength building routines that exercise one muscle at a time. Lunges, push-ups, squats, abdominal crunches, and bent-over rowing engage multiple muscle groups, including the core muscles of the spine and abdomen.

Many books, DVD’s, and classes teach these exercise methods.

Balance is achieved by having groups of muscles work against each other, one set of muscles pulling one way and another set pulling the other way. In some positions several sets of muscles are competing. The coordination of these various competitions is balance. Some routines are specifically designed to create challenges to balance; some routines require balance as an integral part of the positions used.

Balance is not something you work on; it something you achieve by doing the routine.

With firm core muscles, other types of exercise become easier such as strength training and cardiovascular workouts. Many posture problems – slouching in chairs, leaning over computer desks, walking hunched over – are corrected by the mental image of the positions used in the core muscle routine. The core muscle routine is done slowly, allowing mental relaxation.

Good balance and core strength are not additional, they are foundational to a good exercise program.