Balance And Brain Health
by Kathy Smith
Scientists and anthropologists believe that a human’s ability to stand on two feet requires a major amount of brainpower. Balance and walking is an “all systems go” accomplishment. As you age, balance becomes more challenging and more important…especially for the health of your brain.
Your eyes, ears, brain and your sense of body position are the three main sensory circuits that work together to keep you in balance. Your eyes analyze ongoing visual cues and send signals to our brain to alert joints and muscles how to move when. At the same time, a tiny, fluid-filled tube in your ear canal sends messages to your central nervous system about the position of your head. All of these elements are controlled by your brain. So, if you’re experiencing loss of motor coordination, such as having a hard time balancing, it could suggest damage in the brain.
Your “spatial navigation” ability – being able to move through your environment – is closely connected to learning and memory. When spatial navigation ability is impaired through lack of balance, brain function can also be impaired.
What if I told you that a simple balance test could help you gage the health of your brain? Here’s a 90-second test that will help you determine if it’s time for a balance tune-up.
Your eyes will be closed during this test, so you’ll need a partner to time you with a stopwatch (or any watch that has a second hand) and to make sure you don’t fall.
1. Stand barefoot on a hard floor and close your eyes.
2. If you’re right-handed, use your right leg as support and bend your left knee and lift the left foot. If you’re left-handed, use your left leg as support and bend your right knee and lift the right foot. You only need to lift your foot about 6 inches. Don’t worry about accuracy – an estimate is fine.
3. Ask your test partner to start timing how long you can hold the foot-lifted position without wobbling or opening your eyes.
4. Repeat the test three times, add up your total of the times you were able to stand still, and divide it by 3 to determine your average balance time. For instance, if your first balance time was 6 seconds, your second balance time was 5 seconds and your third balance time was 7 seconds, 6 + 5 + 7 = 18. Then to find the average. 18/3 = average balance time of 6 seconds.
5. Check the list below to see if you fall in the average zone for your age:
Average time for 50-year olds is 9 seconds
Average time for 60-year olds is 7 seconds
Average time for 70-year olds is 4 seconds
Notice that as you age, your balance ability decreases. As the years go by, eyesight often diminishes, muscles shrink and reaction time gets slower. But balance is something you can improve, no matter what your age.