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Got Balance?

By Peggy Gregor, BA

We strive to lead healthier lifestyles incorporating basic elements of fitness. We pick up weights to increase strength, hit the treadmill or dance class to improve our cardiovascular stamina and take yoga to enhance our flexibility. Often overlooked is the integration of BALANCE exercises.
Balance training improves neuromuscular coordination - training your brain and your body. Balance is a function prevalent in our daily activities. Everyone benefits from balance training as it refines motor skills and engages muscles in the body that are typically undertrained.
A major benefit of balance training is CORE strengthening. Our core is not our ‘abs’ but a group of deep muscles including our abdominals, back, and hips that work together to create stability and strength in our bodies. Doing single leg lifts engages the gluteal muscles and encourages pelvic stabilization. Small muscles, tendons and ligaments that surround the knee and ankle are also trained, thereby delivering improved joint strength and ROM. Balance training creates a ripple effect. As balance is incorporated, posture is improved leading to less back strain, increased lung capacity, and improved digestive function.
Balance training aids in injury prevention, rehabilitation and reaction time. We never know when our balance will be challenged. A wide receiver may need this when catching a ball near the sideline to stay in bounds. Everyone needs it when climbing steps, or walking on a slippery surface where the risks of falling are greater. Integrating balance prepares the body to react to these risks when least expected. Balance becomes second nature.
Specific equipment is not necessary to glean the benefits of balance. You have the best tools needed – your body and your brain. Standing on one foot or tip-toes serves as a great base for static balance exercises. Adding hand weights and performing upper body exercises adds another layer of balance training. Hopping or leaping side to side provides dynamic balance – imagine needing to quickly move sideways to avoid an unexpected obstacle. Further challenge your dynamic balance by adding a ‘hold’ on one leg after leaping side to side several times. 
Be prepared to look and feel silly! As we develop our balance skills we will be wobbly, shaky and just look and feel awkward. Make it fun and enjoy the many benefits of balance.
Peggy Gregor, group exercise director at Healthtrax Fitness and Wellness in Bethel Park, PA, can be reached at pgregor@healthtrax.net.

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