This week's assignment is about finding your balance. Psychological balance is very important, but that's not what I am referring to here. Physiological balance declines in us as we get older, but with the right application of training, we can maintain and even improve our balance as we get older. As you know, our physical resilience, in this case our balance, is linked to other elements in our minds such as self confidence and our energy systems. If you train yourself to sit around and lie on the couch, you will get really good at doing that. Not saying that lying on the couch is a bad thing, but getting out and training everyday should be what we do to maintain and improve upon our human vessels that carry us around day after day.
Balance primarily boils down to three primary elements, all of which degrade with age.
1. Our balance depends on our vision, which may degrade with age.
2. Our inner ear plays a major role in our balance system, this system also degrades with age.
3. The final part of the equation is the musculoskeletal system and the proprioceptors that help us find our place in the world.
Numbers 1 and 2 are pretty much a given as we get older. Our bodies do not last forever, but, with training, we can work on number 3 and perhaps compensate for degradation that occurs in the first two. And it can be fun.
Working on balance starts at a young age. We learn to sit up, crawl, walk, and run. All of these exercises engage all of the systems mentioned above in one way or another. We LEARN how to balance and then we take it for granted. Practicing and strengthening our balance is something we should do on a daily basis. Adopt a use it or lose it mentality, because balance (along with flexibility) degrades with age and nonuse.
Start off with basic exercises such as standing on one foot or basic yoga moves. You can also take up a basic gymnastics class and challenge yourself. Sports such as stand up paddleboarding challenge your balance in safe ways (you fall in the water if you lose your balance) and conditions can be very challenging in the ocean. Last month, I raced in a paddleboard race across the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. This race was one of the most challenging races and my balance was put to the test for four hours!
Balance boards are incredible ways to work on your balance. Some are better than others and come with various challenging levels. The ISO board by Coastal Authority (https://www.coastalauthority.com) is the one that I use, and have used it since 2015, when training for the Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard race. This system helped me to train for conditions that I could not replicate, living in Florida, for a paddleboard race that was in Hawaii. I also have competitions with my kids, which they win. I think the record to stand on the board is 21 minutes!
So you see, working on your balance can be fun, rewarding, and definitely worth it when you consider that balance is something that degrades with age. I remember having a conversation with a 70 year old retired SEAL who was still training really hard with general physical fitness exercises. He told me that the biggest thing that he noticed as he got older was his balance going downhill. Working on our balance now and building our balance system as you get older is another part of physical resilience.
I am a firm believer that our minds can will us to be whatever we want to be. Don't fall into the mentality that you are too old to take up a new sport, even if that sport requires you to fall (safely) every once in a while. Your balance system, and your body, will thank you if you do.
"Lean into it!"