You might think of it as simply not tipping over. Relating it to coordination as an athlete, balance is the ability to remain stable when you land from a jump. Balance is just the right amount of something: in life, in sports, and in fitness. Here are some tips that may help you in your next balance challenges.
Muscles absorb some of the forces that go through joints, protecting the joint surfaces from overload and damage. A well-designed muscle-strengthening program builds muscles on all sides of the joint—the quadriceps and the hamstrings, for instance. Overloading just one of these leads to abnormal forces placed on the joint surfaces of the knee, which can lead to meniscus and ligament tears when landing from a jump.
Bones weaken as we age past thirty. This natural time clock can be partially reset by loading the bones with resistance training (weightlifting and stair-climbing among the most effective). Balancing such exercises with flexibility efforts—like doing yoga or hiking uphill—can build bone mass, diminishing the fractures that become more common in old age.
The best stimulus for muscle development is a fully balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Diet dystopia is a leading cause of malnourishment and distorted microbiomes, afflicting the too-thin portion of our otherwise well-resourced population.
Sitting versus standing is a simple example of out-of-balance behavior. “Sitting is the new smoking” is a slogan often seen on car bumper stickers, and it may in fact be true. Standing desks, mobile screens, office meetings without chairs—all are steps to better balance. Spending weekend time vertical, or on bikes, surfboards, or skis, and playing (rather than watching) sports, are all first-line defenses against instability.
Reading rather than watching also applies to books and television. Make sure that your reading time is at least equal to, if not far in excess of, your passive watching time—it’s an objective marker of intellect, curiosity, and health. Reading turns on the brain; watching turns it to jelly.
Play versus work is a tough balance. Some get so much pleasure from working that it’s hard to know where the fulcrum point is—yet our families and friends usually know. Ask them: “Do you think I work too much? Play enough?” And ask yourself: “Is my life in balance?” If not, do you think it is healthy or destructive to be out of whack?
When I see patients with injuries, I often encourage them to use their injury as a reason to get fitter, faster, and stronger—to see themselves as athletes in training, not patients in rehab. I remind them that, though all athletes get injured, the great ones use their injuries to train and come back better than they were before. While it is unfortunate they had an injury, it is often the wake-up call that tips their personal scales back into balance.
And guess what? You don’t have to get injured to discover your equilibrium. The opportunities for a well-balanced life are everywhere.