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How Good is Your Balance?

balance on stable surface with eyes open

Alexandra pretending she is balanced. Eyes Wide Open

How good is your functional balance control? You can find out in under 2 minutes. You can also discover which of your three balancing systems is strongest.

I had fun trying the balance assessment below when I attended the first Functional Aging Summit in Phoenix this past week. Day one of the conference was dedicated to learning how to maximize physical function for the over 50 exerciser.  In order to know what to progress, we first need to establish baselines. It’s the ole’ “you don’t know where to go until you know where you are” approach. Ergo — Time to tackle fitness assessments that measure functional abilities such as static balance, dynamic strength, and dynamic balance. (What exactly is “functional fitness”? Click to our post with the answer once you have read this one).

Test Instructions

My fun gets to be your fun. Try the following test which assesses your ability to maintain static balance when one or more sensory systems are inhibited. Stand on both legs with your arms against your sides.  Perform each of the four conditions for 30 seconds with someone else timing you and keeping an eye out in case you fall or need a hand. Stop the test if you:

  1. Raise your arms from your sides
  2. Open your eyes in either of the two closed eyes tests
  3. Lose your balance and need help to prevent falling

Definitions of Sensory Systems

Before you begin, let’s define a few terms so you know which of your balance senses are fine and dandy or need development.

  • Visual System: helps us interpret visual images. Pretty straightforward;
  • Somatosensory System:  conveys information about the state of the body and objects in our external environment through touch. This system also gives us input about the position and movement of our body parts  through the stimulation of muscle and joints, aka proprioception;
  • Vestibular System:  senses spatial orientation for the purpose of coordinating movement with balance.

Ok, now to find out which of these three senses are your best friends, and which (if any) need better buddying up. Ready, set, time yourself!

Condition 1) Eyes Open, Stable Surface

– you are using your visual, somatosensory, and vestibular systems.

Condition 2) Eyes Closed, Stable Surface

balance on an unstable surface with eyes closed

Something in this picture is unstable. Or someone….

– you have pulled out your visual system, and are using just the vestibular and somatosensory systems.

Condition 3) Eyes, Open, Unstable Surface

(stand on a foam pad or BOSU ball, for example) – you are dependent on your visual and vestibular systems in this case.

Condition 4) Eyes Closed, Unstable Surface

(again using a foam pad or BOSU ball) – you are relying on the vestibular system alone.

How many seconds were you able to last for each condition? Under which conditions did you have troubles?

80 Years Old and Kicking Booty (of this 56 year old)

I’ll tell you who aced these tests when we tried them at the Functional Aging Summit — my new pal and inspiration, Marliene, an 80 year old teacher/ trainer from northern California. Not only did she have amazing balance and get to 30 seconds for all four conditions, but also she beat me in the Sit to Stand assessment test. I managed only 19 ups and downs to her 20, which put her above the 90 percentile for her age group and me in the 75% for mine. She is THE example of what active aging and functional training can do for a person. Yeah, I wish I had taken her picture, but we were too busy learning cool, functional exercises.

Doing a side plank on the Ranch bridge

A different kind of balance

Side (plank)  note: I just became the first fitness pro in my county to achieve the Functional Aging Specialist certification. You can read about it here on noozhawk.

The write up means I have a chance to be as incredible as Marliene one day — IF I put all my functional training knowledge into action! How about you?

Take the balance test. Record your results. Which of your balance senses were strongest? Weakest? Let us know in the comments below.

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA

 

PS If you want to assess your leg strength, then check out this companion post, How Strong is Your Lower Body?

 

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