The word “balance” has taken on a number of connotations in recent years. Mostly, balance refers to a mix of work, play, sleep, solitude, social interaction, and so on, appropriate for a person. Each individual has a different mix that works for them. One size, i.e., one combination, cannot fit everyone. Fourteen hours at an easel, or at the keyboard, may be a perfect amount of time for one person, but sheer torture for another.
In the fitness world, balance also takes in several components. On a macro level, balance includes time spent on physical fitness pursuits, like workout time, getting to the gym (or wherever you work out), and recovery from the physical exertion time. All this has to fit in with everything else in an individual’s life.
On a micro level, so to speak, we’re more concerned with the actual, literal components of balance. Biomechanically speaking, balance is the combined work of three systems: vestibular (inner ear), visual (eyes), and somatosensory (touch). Being able to function without falling over is due to the combined efforts of these systems working together.
Let’s look at each system separately:
This is mostly the inner ear, which is involved with staying upright and assessing where our bodies are in relation to the rest of our environment. Our vestibular system is affected by things as simple as congestion from a cold, medication, or as complex as a stroke or brain hemorrhage.
Many of us notice dizziness, what we think of first as the major part of being off-balance when our vision is affected. The visual system has the largest role in balance, involved in and pretty much controlling our perception of our environment and how we move through it. If something affects our vision, it also affects our balance, from safety goggles to cataracts.
This system is about all levels of perception of touch. We think of our skin, and our hands, as our primary touch organs. Muscles, joints, and internal organs are also part of this system. Aches, or pain, in any one of these areas, has an effect on how well we are able to achieve and maintain our balance. Think about it. An aching knee or hip may cause a limp, which demands that we compensate in order to keep ourselves upright and moving.
If we consider balance to be an important component of our total fitness picture, we have to think about how everything affects it. We need good balance on every level, from the amount of time and effort we spend on each area of our lives to how healthy each body system involved in our physiological balance is. It would seem paying attention to all these components is called for.