When it comes to avoiding fractures, reliable balance and strong legs and ankles are exceptionally important. Because of their flexibility, articulation, and weight-bearing status, ankles are vulnerable to breakage in the event of a misstep or fall. And of course the muscles in your legs play a major role in keeping you upright.
Just how important their role is has recently come to the fore. Breakthrough research pulls back a bit more of the shroud surrounding the mystery regarding sensory input and the brain’s translation of it into a myriad of muscle movements that preserve balance.
In fact, your legs, ankles, and feet are performing hundreds of small, subtle movements to prevent you from falling every time you walk, particularly if you’re traversing a slippery surface. Remarkably, this is due in part to another “brain” in your spinal cord, according to recent research.
I can’t wait to share this information with you as well as this effective exercise to strengthen your legs and improve your balance. So let’s get started!
It’s winter here in the Northern Hemisphere, and icy sidewalks, steps, and driveways pose a real danger of slipping and falling. While the weather is keeping you indoors, why not take the opportunity to strengthen your legs and ankles that work so hard to keep you from falling? Today’s challenge can be done in a relatively small space, too, making it the perfect move for wintertime.
As you perform the Angled Balance Enhancer And Leg Strengthener, you’re directly targeting the muscles and sensory receptors that receive signals from the surface you’re walking on, and send them to the brain.
The brain, in turn, sends countless signals to the muscles to move in specific, subtle ways to keep you from falling. This happens without you having to think about it; otherwise, you’d have to concentrate incredibly hard just to take a few steps across a slippery surface. But the way in which this exchange between sensors, the brain, and muscles actually happens has been a mystery.
Now, however, scientists have discovered an amazing link between your brain and your muscles: another brain!
Mini-Brain In Your Spine “Translates” Signals
Every second of the day, you receive input from your environment. The brain has to process enormous amounts of information constantly as your eyes, ears, skin, and more assess your surroundings. When you see a wet, slick surface, your eyes signal your brain to get ready with reflexive motions to keep you balanced on the slippery ground. And as you take your first step onto that slick ground, sensors in the bottom of your feet send more sensory input to your brain.
To gain a better understanding of just what happens between sensory input and response from the brain, scientists performed a study on mice. Using a breakthrough imaging technique, they traced the nerve fibers that carry signals from sensors in the bottom of the feet to neural connections in the spinal cord. These connections form a network or collection of nerves (this is the “mini-brain”). Here, the sensory fibers connect with RORα neurons, a particular type of nerve cell that joins to the brain’s motor region.
When these neurons were disabled in the mice, the animals were able to walk normally on flat ground, but had trouble walking along a narrow beam that was elevated. The mice lacked the ability to sense when their feet were getting close to the edge, and therefore they failed to make the fine motor-skill adjustments in their feet that would have prevented them from falling.1
The researchers discovered something else that’s incredible: RORα neurons do not just connect to the brain, but they also connect directly to nerve cells in the spinal cord that control motion and movement. So they can perform many of their neurological duties directly, without even involving the brain!1
The scientists believe that RORα neurons gather sensory input information and instruct your feet on how to move. And it all happens without us even knowing about it!
As you’ll practice the Angled Balance Enhancer And Leg Strengthener, you’ll be using this newly-discovered ‘mini-brain’ and applying healthy stress on your ankles, as you bend and flex them while supporting your body weight.
It’s a good idea to do this exercise near a wall or a chair, in case you’ll need to keep your balance steady.
- Stand with your feet together.
- Bend one knee – we’ll say the left for the sake of clarity – and as you go down, bring your right foot forward, keeping the knee straight. Don’t let your right foot touch the ground.
- Come back up to the starting position, but don’t put your right foot down yet. Instead, bend your left knee and go down again, this time bringing your right foot forward and slightly to the right (think 1 o’clock).
- Come back up to the starting position, keeping your right foot hovering off the floor. Bend your left knee and go down a third time, bringing your right foot directly out to the side (3 o’clock).
- Come back up once again and when you go down this time, bring your right foot back and out to the side (4 o’clock).
- Come back up and gown down a fifth time, bringing your right foot straight out behind you. Come back up.
- For the final knee bend, extend your right foot behind you and to the left (like a curtsey).
- Come back up and repeat the six knee bends and leg extensions with the other leg.
- Make sure you go very slowly throughout this move.
- Bring your foot out as far as you can without touching the ground. If you can only do a slight knee bend and bring your leg forward only a little bit, that’s fine; you can gradually work up to going lower and bringing the leg out further.
- If you have knee pain or other joint conditions that cast doubt on whether or not this exercise is right for you, please check with your health practitioner or physical therapist first.
Densercise™ Includes Moves That Improve Balance
If you liked today’s challenge, you’ll love the Densercise™ Epidensity Training System. With more than 52 moves that target hips, spine, shoulders, ankles, and more, Densercise™ provides just the right exercises you need to build stronger, younger bones.
Densercise™ includes weight-bearing, resistance, postural, balance exercises, and more, that target specific areas of the skeleton (such as the ankles) that are fracture-prone. And it only takes 15 minutes a day, three days a week!
Take Exercising For Your Bones to the Next Level!
Learn the 52 exercise moves that jumpstart bone-building – all backed by the latest in epigenetics research.
Do you have a favorite Densercise™ move or Weekend Challenge that has become a part of your exercise routine? What are your thoughts on today’s exercise? I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment below.
Have a great weekend!
1 Bourane, Steeve, et al. Identification of a Spinal Circuit for Light Touch and Fine Motor Control. Cell. 160. 3. (2015): 503-515. Web. February 9, 2017. https://www.cell.com/cell/abstract/S0092-8674(15)00012-4?_returnURL=http%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0092867415000124%3Fshowall%3Dtrue