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Body Equilibrium and Balance

By M.L. Rose

The terms “body equilibrium” and “balance” are related concepts dealing with your ability to control your body in a variety of situations. The definitions of these terms can vary -- scientists and sports coaches tend to view them a bit differently. Regardless of the strict definitions, an understanding of how your body remains in control of its movements can help in many circumstances, whether you’re training for a sport or trying to overcome a daily balance problem.

Equilibrium Defined

Your body is in equilibrium when it’s in a static state, or when it’s moving at a constant speed with no acceleration, deceleration or changes of direction. When you stand erect or sit up straight, for example, your body is in equilibrium, although the term is more commonly used in science. When it comes to your body, “balance” is the more typical catch-all term to describe general control.

Two Types of Balance

Your balance can refer to your level of bodily control while you’re stationary or in motion. If you’re well balanced, you can keep your center of gravity above your body’s foundation, known as your base of support. By definition if your body is in equilibrium it’s also in balance. Dynamic balance specifically refers to your level of bodily control when you’re in motion. If you’re running without falling over or teetering from side to side, you’re dynamically balanced.

Improving Balance

Unlike skills such as strength and speed -- which transfer well between many different everyday or athletic pursuits -- improving your balance is skill-specific. Just because you can move gracefully from one side of a balance beam to the other doesn’t mean that you can lace up a pair of skates and remain balanced on ice. Elderly individuals trying to improve their standing and walking balance, therefore, should perform exercises in which they stand and walk in a variety of ways, such as standing on one leg, or performing toe-to-heel walks.

How Your Balance System Works

Your balance system relies on input from your senses to keep you in control of your body. If you’re standing and you begin leaning to your right, your body senses the added pressure on the right foot and reports that data to the brain. Meanwhile, assuming you’re staring straight ahead, your eyes tell your brain that your surroundings have shifted. The brain absorbs all of that information and crafts a response, instructing your muscles to lean your body to the left, based on what your body has learned from previous experiences. That’s why balance training is skill-specific; if you’ve never skated on ice, for example, your brain doesn’t know how to compensate when you start sliding in the wrong direction.

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