July is Balance Month!
We are six months down and six to go in 2022. This seems like a good time to focus on balance. Good balance represents freedom and independence, other themes of July. My blog this month will give some information about the balance center of your brain and why it’s important to work on good balance. There will be three instructional videos from three different people helping me: balance exercises from a Tai Chi master from England, a director of a yoga school, and a physical therapist. I am hoping that you get a sense of the importance of balance, watch each of the videos, and are inspired to add some of these exercises into your daily fitness routine.
First: Some science-
You have two brains, a big one and a small one. The big brain, the “talking brain” is called the cerebrum. The little brain is your balance center, the cerebellum, and it lies behind and under the cerebrum. What’s really interesting is that even though the cerebellum is only 10% of the size of the cerebrum, it has 80% of all the neurons or brain cells. The neurons in the cerebellum are very neatly and tightly packed in parallel rows unlike the cells in the cerebrum which are not parallel and not tightly packed.
The cerebellum feeds a constant stream of information to the cerebrum, regulating the flow to prevent flooding the brain with information. If the cerebellum degenerates, the cerebrum is overwhelmed with excess input. This can cause restless leg syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, depression, anxiety, and many other problems.
The cerebellum does not generate motor activity, but it does coordinate and organize function. It instructs your legs on how to keep your walking motion balanced so that you can walk in a straight line. The cerebellum processes sensory information by sorting and organizing, regulating your emotions, your behavior, and your social exchanges. It regulates your attention span, language, focus, and learning.
Unfortunately, there is a really big “Use it or lose it!” aspect to the cerebellum. Sensation improves the function of your cerebellum while no sensation or sensory deprivation, staying inside, being solitary, lack of interaction with others, sitting still too long- will cause atrophy of the cerebellum. Therefore, you are never too young to work on improving and strengthening your cerebellum. And it’s easy to understand how important it is to work on strengthening the “little brain” every day.
Benefits of Improved Balance:
Pain reduction- Working on better balance will improve your posture, your alignment, and improve the coordination and timing of muscles. There is less stress on the joints, ligaments, and tendons, and consequently less pain. Less pain means more walking and improved health.
Longer life- The speed of walking is dependent on balance and hundreds of studies have proven that lifespan can be predicted by the speed of walking.
Reduced injury- Exercises for balance will push the cerebellum to better coordinate antagonistic muscle groups to work together for smooth, controlled movement. Controlled movement means less ankle sprains, tripping, and falling.
Ease of accessibility- When you improve the control of movement, you gain confidence. It’s a win-win cycle- more movement, more control, more confidence, more movement, etc.
Improved cognitive function- As you work on balance, spatial cognition improves. This will improve attention and that improves your memory. Learning is controlled by your cerebellum. Studies show that mood improves as well.
Lifestyle Tips for a Healthy Cerebellum
The cerebellum is VERY sensitive to inflammation. It’s important to reduce inflammatory triggers.
First, let’s talk about diet. The most inflammatory trigger is a toxic protein in grains called lectin. Avoid oats, wheat, rice, and corn. Your immune system wants to attack lectin and eliminate this toxin. Unfortunately the protein that makes up the cerebellum is very similar in structure to lectin. When you eat grains, your immune system gets confused and begins to attack the protein of the cerebellum, causing ataxia or movement disorder. There are some great articles on this on the NIH website if you wish to learn more.
This means removing junk food, chips, sugary snacks, desserts, processed carbs like bread and pasta from your diet. Reduce or eliminate alcohol, too. I know. All the good stuff. Cheese Doodles and beer. Just do the best you can to reduce these inflammatory triggers. Even reducing them a little will begin to help you feel better and improve cognitive function, physical and emotional balance over time.
Other inflammatory triggers are going to bed too late (non-circadian rhythm sleep), too much stress, and lack of exercise.
Reducing Inflammatory triggers:
1) Avoid grains, sugar, and other inflammatory foods.
2) Get a good night’s sleep. 10 PM is a good bedtime.
3) Try to reduce stress with mindfulness, meditation, journaling, etc.
4) Exercise every day in some way, a bike ride, walk, calisthenics, weight lifting, yoga, Tai Chi, stretching, swimming, golfing, etc. Even just getting outside is good! Sit on a bench and feed the birds the last of your bread. Or Cheese Doodles.
5) Don’t sit too long. Get up every 30 minutes or so.
Because the function of the cerebellum relies on sensory information, balance is better when your brain receives more information. Your balance is better, for example, with your eyes open, when you’re outside, or have full contact orthotics in your shoes. Holding onto a cane, even if it doesn’t touch the ground can help your balance just by feeling the weight and shifting movement of it in your hand as you walk. Anything you can feel or see improves your balance because it triggers activity in the cerebellum. Here are some things to try:
1) Hold onto a chair or countertop. Close your eyes and lift up one leg and stand one legged for a minute. Do the other side. Repeat a few times.
2) Walk one foot in front of the other on some line on the ground. If you are having trouble, put your arms out to help your balance. Be careful not to fall. If your balance is poor, hold onto a fence or wall.
3) Incorporate balance exercises into brushing your teeth, washing dishes or reading emails, or checking your phone. Great exercises to do while brushing your teeth are
on my T’ai Chi video.
4) Please watch all my balance exercise videos this month each a couple of times until you can make up your own routine that’s easy to work on a little bit each day, and maybe even a few times a day.
5) Go outside. The more time you spend outside, the better.
6) Write with pen and paper, a letter, a list, a journal entry, etc. Working with your hands in any way, like doing a jigsaw puzzle, or sketching, can exercise your cerebellum.
July is balance month and I am hoping that you focus on your cerebellum, learn some new exercises, pick up healthy habits that improve your balance, go outside, meet with friends, and do fun activities. Yay “Little Brain”!
Kristina Janson, DPM
(My blog represents my opinion. The content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.)