Falls and their consequences are a paramount health concern in older populations. Poor balance has pervasive effects on daily life and therefore maintaining balance represents an important pillar for the quality of life as we age. A study published in the European Journal of Translational Myology brings clarity to how exactly we should go about improving our balance.
The common prescription from both physical therapists and exercise professionals for improving balance has consisted primarily of the performance of balancing tasks: Stand on one leg on an unstable surface and balance for a set period of time; perform a heel to toe, “tight-rope” walk, and the like. The limitation with these activities is they are what motor learning experts refer to as “closed skills” that do not transfer to “real-life” scenarios or other balancing contexts. Stated otherwise, although we can improve our ability to perform that specific balance task, it doesn’t help our performance in the infinite scenarios in which we must utilize our ability to balance.
This specific research study, conducted by a collaboration of European scientists and published this month, adds to the ever-growing body of research that suggests a strong correlation between muscle strength and balance. Researchers had a study group perform a leg press exercise for a total of 9 weeks and then analyzed their ability to balance in a variety of contexts. By performing the leg press only and no specific balance exercises, the participants significantly improved multiple measurements of balance.
Take Home Message: For robust balance improvements focus on increasing muscle strength rather than performing balancing tasks/exercises.