What is Balance?

Did you know that 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 have experienced a fall in the past 12 months.  In order to improve balance and reduce the likelihood of falling, it is important to understand how the body keeps upright and maintains balance.

Balance requires several systems around the body to work in sync in order to provide feedback and keep you upright.  These include the vestibular (inner ear) system, visual system and the proprioceptive/muscular system.

The vestibular (inner ear) provides feedback to the brain to monitor the position and motion of your head.  Organs within the inner ear known as semi-circular canals or otolith organs are responsible for identifying rotation and side to side movements of the head.  These structures of the inner ear provide information to the brain in order to co-ordinate movements of your eye and head to keep balanced.

The visual system is constantly providing us with feedback to orientate our bodies and keep them upright.  Have you ever wondered why balance is more difficult when you close your eyes?  Noticed that it is easier to balance when you focus your attention on an object in front of you?  The visual system is constantly providing the body with information including where we are, depth awareness and spatial awareness.

The proprioceptive and muscular system provides feedback from around the body.  Each joint, ligament and muscles around your body are supplied by nerves that provide your brain with information about where your body part is in space.  This subconscious proprioception and balance system is crucial in everyday life.

Your brain is constantly receiving feedback from these systems.  When these systems work in sync, your body is able to selectively activate and contract particular muscle groups to keep you upright.

A number of factors can influence and affect these systems.  (See What factors influence balance). However, there are many ways not maintain and improve your balance reflex by practicing specific exercises targeting these systems.

Learn more about falls and balance in Episode 1 of The Better Ageing Podcast:

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