If you ever had to walk a balance beam, you probably remember that the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other on a very narrow surface can be a tricky maneuver. But since most of us don’t spend our days tumbling on the beam, we tend to develop a narrow (pun intended!) view of the role of balance, assuming it’s something that only gymnasts need to train. In reality, balance is involved with nearly every aspect of our daily lives — from sports-specific endeavors (like swinging a golf club or running) to everyday tasks (like walking the dog or loading the dishwasher). Not only will developing a strong balance ability make you less likely to fall, it also significantly improves how well you play a sport and manage your daily activities.
Your sense of balance is a complicated business. It’s both sensory (namely your eyes and ears) and neuromuscular (your brain working with your muscles). Also, a huge component of balance is strength, including ankle strength, core strength and joint stability. “People think they won’t have to worry about balance until they’re much older,” says Lynn Millar, PT, PhD, FACSM, professor of physical therapy at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. But balance doesn’t just disappear overnight — it progressively diminishes over time. The good news: You can take measures now to keep you even-keeled in the future. Balance training — coupled with a healthy diet — will make you stronger, healthier, more agile and more confident in your movement.