Mobility, balance and flexibility are frequently overlooked but essential elements of well-rounded fitness.
Improving or maintaining good balance and mobility help you feel and look your best. In addition, it helps you move well as you age.
On the surface, it may appear that balance and flexibility training have little to do with heart rate variability (HRV). That is true, however the activities that help develop these areas of fitness also tend to promote concentration and relaxation.
Mind-body activities like yoga, dance, tai chi, surfing, and some sports challenge balance, require careful fluid movement, require carefully timed breathing and use full ranges of motion. This combination of factors results in flowing movements where the participant staying focused throughout the activity. The focus and flow has a meditative effect for many people and can help participants destress and can help stats like HRV, resting heart rate, and blood oxygen saturation improve over time.
Benefits of Balance & Mobility Training:
Balance is skill that typically declines with age. However, even among younger people, those with excellent balance perform better in their favorite activities and are at a lower risk for accidents and injury. Preserving balance grows more essential the older one gets as it is in many ways a "use it or lose it" type skill. Since it is a skill, you can improve it through exercise.
Harvard Medical School said "balance training helps reduce the risk of falls in older adults." This is especially beneficial to older adults with thinning bones as a broken leg or hip can have devastating consequences for older adults.
In addition, in the mid-200's a Brazilian study indicated that older adults who can sit on the floor then rise to standing position without aid of their hands were much less likely to die within the next 6 years than those who could not. The study made a splash in the media, although some question how valid it was especially in the case of injury or disability. Older adults who can complete the task maintained good balance, mobility, flexibility, core strength, and lower body strength. Those qualities are all associated with longevity in numerous other studies.
Other benefits include:
- Improved posture which leads to an improved appearance
- Grace and ease of motion
- Being less prone to accidents and injuries
- Relieved stress
- Decreased pain in many cases
- Improved sports, work or activity performance
How To Improve Balance, Flexibility, and Mobility
Core strength helps with balance, so many core exercises like planks help develop balance skills. Most activities that challenge your balance will help improve your balance, spatial awareness, and control. Some examples include climbing, surfing, dancing, yoga, circus inspired workouts, and tai chi. Also simple exercises like standing on one leg help.
Flexibility and mobility exercises can be in a stand alone workout sessions such as a yoga class. Or if you prefer, you can incorporate them into your cool down from your aerobic or strength training workouts.
The Mayo Clinic recommends stretching after more vigorous workouts while your muscles are warm. The American Council on Exercise recommends stretching and doing mobility exercises daily if possible or at least three times a week.
"Lack of mobility is associated with poor posture and pain, which can affect the ability to perform even the simplest daily routines." The American Council on Exercise.
Mobility exercises are related to stretches but tend to be more dynamic. For example, someone might do gentle hip circles to aid their hip mobility. Dynamic stretching, tai chi, flowing yoga poses, and many gentle sports warm up exercises are all examples of mobility training. People often incorporate these exercises into their workout warmup.
A balanced fitness program includes exercises designed to improve all aspects of fitness including aerobic training, strength training, balance training, and flexibility or mobility training.
Sources and Resources
Fitness Training: Elements of a Well Rounded Routine, Mayo Clinic
Elements of an Effective Exercise Program, American Council on Exercise (ACE)
Current Physical Activity Guidelines, the Center for Disease Control (CDC)