While phone apps and online programs that exercise the brain are popular to improve memory and prevent dementia, most people overlook a key component to lasting brain function: your balance.
Your brain requires good balance to stay sharp and lower the risk of dementia. In addition to doing brain exercises, make sure you regularly challenge and improve your balance.
How good balance improves brain function
What does good balance have to do with preserving memory and brain function?
The cerebellum, the area at the base of the brain, governs balance, as well as precision, coordination, and timing.
It makes sure you can walk upright, put a spoon to your mouth, or hit a tennis ball. The movements of daily life keep the cerebellum in a constant state of activity.
It’s this constant activity that keeps the rest of the brain on its toes. A healthy cerebellum feeds the brain a steady stream of information to keep it actively firing and healthy. (This is also one reason regular physical activity is so vital to brain health and function.)
Bad balance leads to bad brain function
This explains why symptoms of cerebellum degeneration, such as bad balance, often tie into loss of memory, cognition, and brain endurance. The brain isn’t getting enough juice from the cerebellum to keep it charged and running well.
Brain overwhelm from bad balance
If a different area of cerebellum degenerates, this can overwhelm the brain with information.
The outer area of the cerebellum serves as a gatekeeper, regulating information that travels from the body to the brain. When this area of the cerebellum degenerates, the gates are left unguarded, and too much sensory input floods the brain.
Symptoms may include restless leg syndrome, tinnitus, hypersensitivity to stress, depression, fatigue, anxiety, and others that you wouldn’t think could be related to balance.
Can you pass this balance test?
- Do you wobble if you stand on one foot? How about with your eyes closed?
- If you walk in a straight heel-to-toe line do you stumble? How about with your eyes closed?
- If you stand with your feet together and close your eyes do you sway to one side?
- Do you walk with a wide gait, or feel like you’re going to fall if you don’t hold the handrail going down the stairs?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, your balance issues could be a sign of compromised brain health and increased risk of dementia later in life.
How to improve your balance and hence brain health
Since we know regular exercise is a must to preserve brain function, look for forms that emphasize balance. Ideas include specific balance exercises, yoga, tai chi, stand-up paddle boarding, dancing, and the use of a wobble board or Bosu ball. Just be safe and work within your limits!
Good balance is only part of a bigger brain puzzle
Good cerebellum health is important, but it’s not the end all. The inner ear, or vestibular system, also plays a vital role in balance and may need attention if your balance is off.
Also, screening for gluten sensitivity is important, as a gluten intolerance degenerates the cerebellum in many people.
Follow an anti-inflammatory diet and reduce stressors. The brain and cerebellum are very sensitive to inflammation from junk foods, sleep deprivation, chronic stress, and more.
And make sure you keep your blood sugar stable — blood sugar that is constantly too low or too high (or both) rapidly ages the brain and contributes to poor balance.