Your ability to stand upright is much more complicated than you might imagine. Signals about where the body is in space (a “sixth sense” known as proprioception) combine with visual signals from your eyes, pressure signals from your skin and signals from the fluid filled canals in your inner ear to let your brain know just what to do in order to keep you fighting the forces of gravity and ending up as a perpetual decorative floor rug.
Balance is extremely important for navigating through the world safely, and without a good sense of it, things can go bad in a hurry. Just ask anyone who has had a few too many “wobbly pops” on a Saturday night and found themselves unexpectedly face down on the sidewalk. Adult beverages aren’t the only thing that can impact balance though. Things as benign as deconditioning from lack of exercise and declining visual acuity (especially at night) or any one of the 1,357 diseases on this list can be responsible for the many types of dizziness that can have an impact on balance.
The good news is that the more serious causes of dizziness and balance problems tend to be rare, but it is still important to get them ruled out by a physician. Once those have been ruled out, improving your balance is typically very simple and has many health benefits like increasing stability and strength and ultimately reducing your risk for falls that can cause serious injury.
Taking a couple of minutes a day to practice standing on one leg for 25-30 seconds on each side and progressing to doing this exercise with your eyes closed, or while standing on a less stable surface like a decorative couch pillow (men, they FINALLY have a use!) or balance board can go a long way towards increasing balance and coordination. For the elderly, simple “sink exercises” outlined in this handout from the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit can be very beneficial for decreasing fall risk and is worth a look!
As always, before you begin any new exercise routine (as simple as they may seem) it is important to consult with a qualified physican like your chiropractor (me if you are in Denver!) to see if the program is right for you.