Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Shoring Up Your Sense of Balance Can Pay off in Quick Dividends

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Shoring Up Your Sense of Balance Can Pay off in Quick Dividends

Article excerpt

When we talk about fitness, we're often focused on cardio endurance and strength training. The benefits of burning calories and building and toning muscle are immediate: We look good and feel better.

But getting lost in the shuffle is a fitness component so important, yet so basic, we forget that we need it every time we take a step: balance. It's what keeps us on our feet when walking and steady in a fixed pose.

In winter, when walkways become slick and we're bundled up in heavy coats and rushing to get indoors, having good balance is crucial.

Have you ever tripped on a crack in the sidewalk and averted a fall by remaining planted on your feet? That's balance at work. The process is quite complex, involving brain messages and multiple senses. The core muscles and posture also play a role.

For seniors in particular, problems with equilibrium can lead to serious falls and a decline in quality of life. "Once they start to lose balance and the ability to stabilize, they become afraid to go outside, work in the garden and go down the stairs," said Adrienne Donofrio, fitness director at the Wayne YMCA.

People shouldn't wait until they get older to consider their steadiness, Donofrio said. Starting in middle age, our physical equilibrium can decline, she said. "It's progressive. You should start doing exercises and continue straight through," she added.

Athletes, from skiers to football players, understand the importance of balance for peak performance. Runners, even casual joggers, can benefit from improving their balance. If a runner is unstable, you can immediately spot it in his or her stride, which puts them at higher risk for injury, Donofrio said.

Pilates, yoga and aerobics classes all help enhance balance, as well as its counterparts -- abdominal strength and posture. New this year, the Wayne YMCA will be offering a Beam Fit class -- utilizing a floor-level beam -- that improves balance, posture and core, and is especially beneficial for seniors, Donofrio said.

There are many fitness products on the market that help improve balance, from the BOSU ball to balance boards, but Donofrio advises that the inexperienced should seek the guidance of a trainer before using these tools. …

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