Keeping Your Balance

Maintaining long-term postural stability, and how air quality may affect your balance

If you’re a client of Copeman Healthcare, your kinesiologist has likely introduced you to the balance test. You may have felt a bit foolish as you balanced like a flamingo on one leg, with your eyes closed, moving on and off of a foam surface, and you’ll probably also remember that it’s trickier than it looks!

If you’re nodding your head, thinking back to that wobbly time, then you’ve likely experienced the balance error scoring system (BESS) test, which is designed to assess your postural stability.


What is postural stability and why do we test it?

Postural stability is your ability to properly distribute your body’s mass, either during periods of inactivity (sitting or standing) or while in motion (dynamic balance). Postural stability is enabled by the central nervous system, which processes information from three sensory systems: proprioceptive, vestibular and visual.

Trauma to the areas of the brain responsible for governing this sensorial information can impact our postural stability. In addition to physical trauma and passive exposure to toxins, a number of neurological conditions can also interfere with our ability to balance. Now, emerging research is starting to show that air pollutants or other environmental toxins may also be linked to cognitive effects like postural stability.


An innovative study with a Copeman connection

Jason Curran, a researcher at the University of British Columbia (UBC), recently conducted an innovative study examining the effects of air pollution on cognitive factors, including balance. The study, which was conducted with the assistance of Copeman Healthcare kinesiologist Nadine Sinnen, involved acute exposure to diesel exhaust (DE), which is commonly associated with a number of detrimental health effects. In the study, DE was used to mimic the air pollutant index of highly polluted cities.

Curran’s study was one of the first to employ postural stability testing to determine how acute DE exposure influences cognitive factors. The BESS test was used to assess the static balance of two groups of healthy adults. Although the control group performed better than the group exposed to acute DE, these differences were not notable enough to reveal any significant impact upon static balance.

The study concluded that limited, short-term exposure to DE has minimal effect on balance. However, its small sample size of just 28 healthy adults means that its findings carry certain limitations. It’s important to note, for example, that the elderly or other more susceptible populations may be affected differently by DE exposure than the participants in this study.


Keeping your balance long-term

The multi-disciplinary team of medical professionals at Copeman Healthcare believes that a baseline assessment of your health is critical, as it gives you the ability to effectively monitor the long-term or chronic effects of any environmental changes. With so many of the everyday risk factors affecting your postural stability beyond your control, it’s important to be proactive.

We use the BESS test with clients daily to gain a basic understanding of their static balance and how it’s changing from year to year. You can also enhance your postural stability with exercises that strengthen and stabilize your muscles and joints, such as lateral band walks or double/single leg deadlift movements.

For more information – or if you have concerns about your balance – consult your Copeman physician or kinesiologist today. They’ll be happy to help you develop a personalized strategy for improving and/or maintaining your balance over the long term.


Click here for the full study, available online

Jason Curran, Rachel Cliff, Nadine Sinnen, Michael Koehle and Chris Carlsten. Acute diesel exhaust exposure and postural stability: a controlled crossover experiment, Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology. 2018 13:2