Work-life balance has been a buzzword in the employee wellness space for a while, but today we’re discussing how you can help employees literally find balance. Whether we’re reaching for something on a high shelf, playing soccer with friends or scrambling over rocks while hiking, balance is central to everything we do and is integral to fall prevention. As we age, balance gets harder to maintain, making us vulnerable to falls and fractures. Balance naturally erodes over time and neural connections can be lost if not used. Incorporating balance exercises into one’s exercise routine can decrease the risk of injuries inside and outside the gym.
Falls are a common cause of injury and costly to our medical system. They rank among the top 20 most expensive medical conditions. According to the CDC, medical costs related to falls totaled more than $50 billion in 2015. The average cost of a hospitalization due to a fall-related injury is more than $30,000. Additionally, falls are the leading cause of injury-related death for Americans 65 years and older. Four to 6 percent of falls in older adults lead to serious injury, such as fractures, and as many as 20 percent of hip fracture patients die within a year of their injury. One fall can drastically change one’s life. That’s why it’s never too early, or late, to improve one’s balance.
Balance training is one of the four main types of exercise, along with strength training, cardiovascular fitness and flexibility training, but is often overlooked. Balance employs a separate system than muscular strength and flexibility and needs to be challenged to be improved. While many longevity researchers believe good balance has the ability to turn back the clock physically and functionally, these exercises are not just important for older individuals. Elite athletes use balance training to dominate their sport due to its vast benefits.
This type of training isolates and activates the smaller, more intricate muscles involved in balance, improving the communication between your body and brain. It can also:
- Decrease your risk of injury
- Tighten your midsection and build core strength (A strong core allows you to maintain good posture and control your body’s positioning when you’re on the move.)
- Improve stability, coordination and agility
- Increase your capacity to push yourself during workouts
- Help prevent falls, especially as you age, which can help you maintain your independence
Before incorporating balance exercises into your routine, begin with a balance assessment. Make sure you have something sturdy to hold nearby (in case you lose your balance), then close your eyes and stand on one foot. Note how long you’re able to hold this position. Perform this test again in a month to see if you’ve successfully increased this amount of time with your balance training.
Basic Balance Exercises
You can incorporate balance training into daily activities by doing simple things like standing on one leg while doing dishes or brushing your teeth, walking heel-to-toe like you’re on a tightrope (20 steps forward and back), or sitting down and getting up from a chair without using your hands.
Another option is to work through this simple progression – as you begin, engage your core (without holding your breath):
- Stand on one foot for at least 30 seconds, then switch to the other. Once you master this, move on to the next exercise.
- Perform step one but with your eyes closed.
- Repeat step one while standing on a couch cushion or foam pillow (foam is better than feathers). Then move on to step two, on this unstable surface, while closing your eyes.
- Next, try this on tiptoes. Stand on one leg, then the other. Finally, try it with your eyes closed.
- Perform leg swings by lifting one leg out to the side and swinging it back and forth at least 10 times, then switch sides.
- Stand on one leg with the opposite knee bent at a 45-degree angle. Bend at the waist to touch the ground in front of you with one hand. Switch sides.
- Sit on a stability ball with your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Lift and extend one leg at a time while simultaneously raising the opposite arm to shoulder level.
- Find a class at your gym or online that focuses on balance training, utilizing equipment like balance boards or Bosu trainers.
As you progress in your balance training, try to stabilize your body under increasingly difficult circumstances, such as standing on a wobble or balance board. Once you’re able to balance on unstable surfaces like this, start performing exercises like squats or tossing a ball while on them. Search online if you’re interested in more advanced balance movements, such as one-legged weightlifting moves and plyometric exercises.
Dedicate five to 15 minutes a day to balance training. Performing balance exercises while warming up can be an effective way to activate your core and mentally prepare for your workout since balance requires focus. Your brain needs to work harder to remain stable. It’s also great for body awareness and building your mind-body connection, which carries over into everyday life. These exercises encourage remaining in the present moment. Research has found those who perform balance exercises experience greater cognitive gains than those who do not.
The main risk of balance exercises is falling, so you may want to do them close to something sturdy you can grab if you lose your balance. If you have a medical condition, have an injury or are pregnant, you may want to check with your health care provider first.
If you experience back pain, balance training can help alleviate it while strengthening your core. If you suffer from arthritis, it can strengthen smaller muscles to provide support to painful joints.
Ideas for Supporting Your Employees’ Sense of Balance
- Educate your employees on the importance of good balance – this can come in the form of emails, posters and digital displays.
- Encourage balance breaks. Send emails containing balance exercises employees can do at their workspace for a quick break.
- Raffle off balance-building equipment (e.g., balance boards) as prizes after the next wellness challenge your company hosts.
- If there’s a company break room, stock it with balance equipment or buy a few balance boards for standup workstations that co-workers can take turns using.
- Practicing tai chi is a proven way to improve balance; host an on-site workshop.
Life is dynamic and ever-changing; assist your employees as they strive for balance in their everyday lives. We all need to adapt to what life brings our way, physically and mentally.