Fitness Facts: Balance, Stability & Flexibility 101

Can you bend down and touch your toes, or balance on one foot for 20 seconds? If those tasks sound more like impossible circus acts than a part of your daily exercise routine, you are not alone. Most people do not incorporate balance, stability or flexibility training into their workout even though those fitness traits are essential keys to quality of life.

Unfortunately, poor balance can lead to a higher risk of falls, broken bones and unwanted visits to the emergency room. Each year 2.5 million people are treated in emergency departments for fall-related injuries, with medical costs totaling approximately $34 billion annually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What’s more poor core stability can lead to back pain and compromised techniques when exercising. Lack of flexibility can keep you from doing simple tasks such as getting up off the floor.

The good news is you can easily improve those fitness skills by incorporating a few new moves into your daily routine. Remember to consult your physician before starting a new exercise routine.

Better Balance

Adding several balance activities to your normal routine at least two days per week can significantly improve your balance and help prevent future injuries.

These activities can be done at home or at the gym and can be something as simple as balancing on one foot for at least 20 seconds and repeating each leg five times. Progressions may include moving the free leg front to back, side to side, or standing on an unstable surface such as a balance trainer.  The great thing about balance training is that there is always a way to challenge yourself. If you think you’ve mastered something, try looking up while doing it or even closing your eyes (in a safe environment). Practice this for a few minutes each day, and you’ll be walking the tight rope in no time.

Core Stability

So what exactly is your core? Core stability is being able to maintain proper neck, scapular, spinal and pelvic stability in order to perform exercises with good alignment and to minimize the risk of injury. Core training should be incorporated into each workout session and can include exercises such as plank holds, pelvic tilts, shoulder and back stretches and drawing in your abdominal wall without moving your pelvis or spine.

Some of these may sound easy, but try holding a plank correctly for one minute straight and your shaking muscles will show you why it’s important not to skip these exercises. When performing a plank hold, remember to place the hands directly under your shoulders, straighten your arms by pushing away from the ground, contract the abdominals and glutes, and lengthen the spine by tucking your tailbone down toward the ground. Don’t allow your hips to sag down or pop up in the air, and keep a neutral neck position. Try to create a straight plank from your head to your feet. Now hold it for 20 seconds and challenge yourself to hold it longer each time you do it. If you have pre-existing back pain, don’t be surprised if it starts to disappear after a few weeks of core exercises.

Flexibility & Stretching

Flexibility is another portion of fitness training that often gets brushed aside. But adding flexibility exercises to your workout is important. Poor flexibility can lead to back pain, which is one of the leading causes of disability throughout the world, according to medical research. Stiff muscles can also cause a limited range of motion in joints, making ordinary tasks more of a chore than they should be.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that “adults should do flexibility exercises at least two or three days a week to improve range of motion.” It is important to get into the habit of incorporating stretches into your post workout cooldown. Try to stretch each muscle for a minimum of 30 seconds.

Other great ways to improve your flexibility are stretching classes and yoga sessions. Join a yoga class a couple times a week and you’ll be feeling good and loose instead of fighting to get off the floor.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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