Enhance Balance and Stability with Eye Movement Exercises
October 03, 20234 min read
Fall reduction, balance training and body awareness training are all key concepts for Baby Boomers and the individual living with a chronic neurological condition such as MS, Parkinson’s or neuropathy.
Being able to balance on one leg is not only a skill but a necessity when it comes to walking. In fact, it was the ability to stand on one leg that led to the evolution of bipedalism and walking as we know it.
With age, injury and disease our ability to stand on one leg gets compromised. From decreased vision, hearing loss, poor sensation of the feet and a slower nervous system, one may begin to notice an increase in their sway, weak ankles and fear of foot placement.
Most of us are familiar with the “bottom up” approach to improving balance by performing balance exercises using unstable surfaces like wobble boards or balance pads to improve balance.
But there’s also a “top down” approach that can improve balance just as effectively by just standing on one leg and challenging the system through eye movements or doing cognitive tasks (aka dual tasking).
In this article we’ll go over how doing eye movement exercises is an effective way to not only challenge balance – but also to improve it!
Balance & the Basal Ganglia
To appreciate the power of eye movement exercises, one needs to understand a part of the brain called the basal ganglia.
Housed in our limbic system, the basal ganglia is a part of the brain that plays a role in both small muscle movements, such as eye movements, and large muscle movements, such as walking.
This movement relationship in the basal ganglia has demonstrated to be an effective way to improve balance. A2018 study found that 6 weeks of combined balance and eye movement exercises improved balance more effectively than balance exercises alone.
The integration of eye movement exercises are a great way to enhance and upgrade any current balance regimen or fall reduction program.
Below are some of our top eye movement exercises.
Another great way to challenge your system is to add sensory input via the hands or feet. You could stimulate the feet by standing on a textured surface like the Cobblestone Walkway, or the hands by holding a Neuro Ball to further activate the brain. Calledsensory stacking.
Start by standing on one leg or in a tandem stance (one foot in front of the other like walking on a line). Slowly turn your head to the right and to the left to shift both the vestibular system and visual system.
To further improve the benefit of this exercise every time you turn your head, spot something and engage the core.
Perform 2 head turns to each side and repeat either standing on the other leg or with the opposite leg in front.
Hold a pen or something in your hand and perform one of two movements: you can either move the hand from left to right and track using just your eyes (keep the head stationary) OR or move your head from side to side using your eyes to track the pen that stays stationary directly out in front of you. Both ways are an effective way to train the eye muscles.
Perform 5 rounds.
This is one of the most effective eye movement exercises. Standing on one leg or in a tandem, keep the head stable and only move the eyes.
Look all the way to the left, spot something and then quickly move the eyes to the right and spot something. Quickly look to the left again and repeat back and forth 10 times.
Make it better: use a metronome app or something to keep tempo and spot something specific every time you move your gaze. Post-it notes with an X or O drawn on and stuck to the wall work well.
This last one is our favourite. Start on one leg or tandem stance and begin to look into the distance - about 100 meters. While staring at one spot far in the distance, begin to take notice of everything in your peripheral vision. Call out what you see, but do not move your gaze.
Hold for 15 seconds and repeat on the other leg.
Perform at least 1 or 2 of these eye movement exercises on a daily basis. Different people respond to eye movement exercises differently so start with one exercise and build from there. These exercises can be done in a seated position too, so begin seated if your balance is really challenged, or you find the standing exercises too much.
Feeling like a rockstar and want to up your balance abilities even more? Try these eye movement exercises on a Fitterfirst balance board or balance pad.
Sign up to get the latest on sales, new releases and more …