One of your most important senses is one you’ve probably never heard of: proprioception. You can experience your proprioception by closing your eyes and trying to stand balanced on one foot. Without visual input, proprioception is the inner awareness of your body that allows you to keep your balance. You might take for granted that your brain knows where your feet are, but without ongoing stimulation into this feedback loop as you age, this sense begins to fail and the risks of falls and injury increase.
Keeping your proprioception strong is one of the key reasons why exercise is important to help you age well. For example, when you do squats, your brain receives a strong signal about the location of your legs and feet. Other great exercises for your proprioception include practicing yoga or Tai-chi and using a balance board. These wobbly workouts help you develop a keen awareness of your body in space.
I recently went for an invigorating hike with my son and our dog at Chautauqua Park in Boulder. The late-winter sun warmed us as we hiked the steep, winding path through the Colorado foothills. The trail became increasingly rocky as we continued on, requiring my full concentration to keep my footing.
Research about falls in the elderly show that older people don’t stumble more often than younger folks. But, when they do stumble, they tend not to catch themselves as easily. When proprioception is compromised, you land on the ground before your brain has even gotten the message that you are falling.
Go out of your way to find the rocky path. The more often your feet have to contend with uneven terrain, the better. It creates an opportunity for your brain and your feet to send strong signals to each other and keep those lines of communication open.