Click here to listen: How Movement Can Optimize Your Balance

Hi, everyone! It’s Dr. Trish Murray and this is Discover Health Podcast. Today I have Jim Chaput with me who is an Applied Movement Neurology Specialist. Hey, Jim!

Good afternoon! Great to be here again.

It’s awesome to have you, Jim. Folks, today’s discussion is entitled “How Movement Can Optimize Your Balance.” We’re going to be getting into the nervous system and the interaction to your nervous system because, as I said, Jim is an Applied Movement Neurology Specialist. Let me tell you a little bit about his background, and then we’ll get right into this.

First of all, Jim Chaput after a 19-year career in financial services… isn’t that interesting that so many of us have pivots in our lives to things we are so passionate about? Jim left a leadership position to focus on health and fitness. Jim is a Master Practitioner of Applied Movement Neurology and holds certificates in Applied Functional Science and 3DMAPS from the Gray Institute. His passion is empowering you to help resolve the pain, tension, and insomnia that prevents you from living well. One of his major focuses is absolutely on balance with movement.

Jim, why should people focus on improving their balance?

Yeah, I mean a couple of things. Balance is the thing that keeps us safe, right? Especially with the older audience. I know a lot of the people that I see in my practice that fall…and

complications from falling is actually the leading cause of death for older people. Having great balance, number one is about being safe.Click To Tweet

As I was preparing for this conversation and thinking about it more, I also realized it’s so much more though because it’s also about anxiety. I was thinking about those of us who live in New England or if you live in a cold climate. Imagine when you go out and it’s really icy. How do you walk? You get really tense, and you’re taking these little steps and you’re really nervous about falling. We all know, of course, that usually makes it worse. If you get all tense like that, you’re actually more likely to fall. You need your system to be a little more resilient and flexible. If you’ve got really significant balance issues, never mind when it’s icy, you might be going through every day with that little low-level anxiety or high-level anxiety of, Oh. I don’t know. Can I make it down these stairs? Can I make it up these stairs?

To me, one of the greatest things you can do to just move with more confidence and ease is have really great balance and know that you’re going to be fine.Click To Tweet

Jim, no matter what age you are…it could be in your teens. Balance is important for athletic performance and being able to move around and do what you want to do when you want to do it. Of course, what you’re bringing up also is as we age it absolutely the idea of yes…hip fractures as many people know, decrease people’s life expectancy. Someone elderly gets a hip fracture? The increased level of death within one year is astronomical. We don’t want that to happen. The fear you’re talking about and the anxiety keeps people locked up in their homes sometimes, and they won’t go out because of the fear of their balance and falling and having, for example, that fracture.

The other thing like my age even, I’m in my late fifties, and no matter what decade you are. Also, if you have an injury if you’re feeling off balance because of let’s say some plantar fasciitis which is a chronic problem or a chronic knee problem, then that does what? It puts your balance at weakness. If your balance isn’t as optimal as possible, you’re going to start having anxiety and fear that not only are you limping, you also might fall. That’s a huge aspect of this.

What are some common causes of balance issues that people could be thinking about of how they might then be able to optimize their balance?

Yeah. So, there are a few things that I tend to look at in my practice and in my movement classes. The first is proprioception which is our sense of our body in space. Throughout our body we have these proprioceptive receptors. So, you know, you can imagine all the muscles and tendons around your feet give your body information about where that foot is. Then the ankle joint itself would have something similar. Same thing in your knees and hips. All the way up. One of the things I would look at is – do you have some sort of proprioceptive disfunction that we can fix?

Another thing I would look at is just muscle weakness. Sometimes people, if your hips are weak for example, you might struggle to hold all your weight on a single leg, but when you walk you must have your weight on just a single leg at least temporarily. Muscle weakness in the hips or below could definitely have an impact.

And then the last area I tend to look at is the vestibular system. I look at it in a couple of different ways. Just in general, it takes in all the information from other areas and integrates it. It helps you. That sense of your body in space.

All the information coming from proprioception feeds through the vestibular system. Your visual system feeds into the vestibular system. And then your inner ear is directly involved in feeding information.Click To Tweet What I would look at is – are any of those areas, or the vestibular system itself, struggling?

Let’s talk a minute about that because that’s a big word – vestibular. Some people are familiar with the vestibular system and others are like, what the heck is he talking about? So, let’s take a moment and talk a little bit about this system and this anatomy.

First of all, folks, your vestibular system is your primary balance system in relation to movement. If it’s dysfunctional, you can’t function in this world. You can’t stand upright, you can’t walk. Basically, it’s a peripheral system meaning it’s not in your brain itself like right in the braincells and the different lobes of your brain. It’s actually in the bone. If you feel right behind your ears there’s a boney prominence that’s very easy to feel, and that’s the petrous portion of your temporal bone. Don’t say that ten times fast! The bottom line is it’s the petrous portion, and deep in that bone is your inner ear. Your inner ear has a labyrinth of basically organs I guess I’ll call them. There are some main organs – there’s the semicircular canals. In the bone there are these semicircular canals that are set up at right angles to each other. The point is, when we rotate our heads, those semicircular canals have sensory organs like little hair cells in them that tell us where we are in space and whether we are in balance and maintain our balance.

The other thing is there’s another organ system called the otoliths. That’s just their name. Oto means ear. So, otoliths. The names of them to complete the explanation are the saccules and the utricle. The bottom line is these are more little areas where these hair cells in the lining of these canals and things give your body and your brain information about moving in a straight line for the utricle and the saccules. Are either up and down or side-to-side, horizontally. You’ll notice that there’s this labyrinth of nervous system material in the vestibular system which is deep in your inner ear.

How do people balance this stuff, Jim? How do they optimize this? If people know…there was a time in my life I was like, wow, my balance is horrible! Just the idea of going hiking and wanting to walk across a log over not even very high over a stream. I usually would fall off that thing and get soaking wet. That doesn’t happen to me anymore because I learned to move better to optimize my vestibular system and the proprioception you were talking about. What can people do to optimize this?

Yeah. I think first of all as you said this system is critical to our balance. It’s the main system responsible for that. For some people if you’re vestibular system is really dysfunctional, you know it. It’s one of these systems that when it’s working really well you don’t even notice that it’s there, but when it’s really bad you can’t even function. People with vertigo, for example, that sometimes someone can’t even sit up or stand up without becoming ill because their vestibular system is so dysfunctional. Other people have just amazing balance. They can seem to do anything. People can walk on a slackline or tightrope. Most of us are somewhere in between.

The first thing I do when I either see people in person or as part of my movement class is I have people try different things just to figure out, just how good is your balance? If it’s not that great, what seems to be the problem? I sometimes just have people do something simple like, “Hey, can you just stand on one leg? Just try that. Try the other leg. Do they feel equal? Is one better than the other?” If people feel pretty good with that – because for a lot of people that’s actually relatively easy – can you stand on one leg and close your eyes and maintain your balance with your eyes closed? Suddenly, for a lot of people, you’re very unstable.

The reason why I try different tests like this and mix it up is that when you’re relying on your visual system to help your balance it tends to be a lot easier. When you close your eyes, now you’re really relying on proprioception through your foot and then those inner ear structures to keep track of where you are, it’s a lot more challenging for many of us. Then, depending on how well you do on each test it gives you a sense of where you need to focus your effort. If you struggle to stand on one foot with your eyes open, I would probably go to the muscular system first to see what’s happening there. If you’ve got great balance with your eyes open, but then when you close your eyes you get real problems then I would tend to go to the vestibular system, that inner ear and say, what’s happening up there?

Then the other couple of things other challenges you can do to really know how well your nervous system’s working for balance is when you’re balancing say on one foot, can you move your eyes around and keep your head still? Is that okay? The other thing is can you keep your eyes focused on something and move your head around and still maintain your balance? These are different challenges that when things are working well, you won’t even notice them. Imagine an athlete, right? These top athletes, football players. They’re running down the field full speed and they turn their head to watch the ball and as the ball comes in, they catch it all while running full speed. Their nervous system is obviously operating at an amazing level.

With a helmet on their heads!

Yes! And while someone is chasing them down and they’re about to get crushed as soon as they catch the ball, right? They’ve practiced and they have the skill to such a high level. Their nervous system is performing at an amazing level to be able to do those things. For some of us, you might find if you’re out on a hike or whatever, can you with confidence keep moving and look around and enjoy the scenery. If the answer is no, well you’ve got a great opportunity then to improve your balance.

Being able to move your head and look at different things with confidence and ease means your nervous system is working really well. If you can’t do those things you definitely have an opportunity to improve your quality of life.Click To Tweet

Absolutely. Let’s get into this more. What are some drills or some tests that you could list for folks. Okay, how do I know if it’s my muscular system? How do I know if it’s my system which is this proprioceptive system that’s telling me…that’s more the nervous system telling you where you are in space. So, there’s an overlap between these things but yet they are different. Or is it my vestibular system? And also, as you brought up Jim, the vision. These other senses we have that are part of it. If we’re always relying on our eyes being open and you close your eyes and all of the sudden you fall down, then obviously it’s not your vision it’s your other parts of this system. Not that that’s the typical thing that’s going to happen.


That’s obviously an extreme. But, the idea is if you’re standing on one leg and all the sudden you close your eyes and you have to catch yourself every time – something’s up folks! How do they know? Let’s talk about and give them very specific things they could do to test. Which one of these is it?

Yeah. So, the first thing is if you’re trying to stand on one leg even with your eyes open and you feel a bit wobbly and maybe you feel really wobbly on one leg and the other one feels okay. On that wobbly leg, I’d say, “Okay. Maybe there is something muscular going on here.” There’s a couple of things you can try. You can actually do something really simple by just rubbing the skin on the top of your foot, around the ankle, and your lower leg and just basically get your brain to pay attention to that area on that wobbly foot. And just do that for about even twenty or thirty seconds. Give it a big sensory overload basically. Then just retest. If suddenly in your balance you feel a lot more stable you say, okay that suggests that it was proprioception in that area. That change might not be immediately permanent, but you know it’s something that improved you so you could do something like that every day and then you’d test each time you do it. You’d say, let me test my balance today. Yeah, I’m still wobbly. Let me do this little rubbing the skin around this area, retest my balance. Is it better? You keep doing this every day and one day, who knows it could take four or five days, it may take a couple of weeks depending on how significant the issue is. One day, you’d just try it, and you’d say, oh, I feel really stable today. Well, you probably don’t need to do that exercise anymore. Maybe you need to do something else. That would be one simple approach.

If you think of, I’m totally stable on both feet. I stand one foot and I’m really stable. I stand on the other foot and I’m really stable. But when I close my eyes suddenly, I’m quite wobbly. For some people what you’ll find is you’ll tend to always fall towards the same side. What that might suggest is if I always fall to the right then maybe it’s that inner ear structure on the right side that’s struggling. So, some of the things I like to get people to try is – okay, if that right side is struggling a little bit, do a little spin to the right and then retest your balance.

If you haven’t done such a thing before, I suggest people start really slow because if your vestibular system is struggling then spinning really fast might be very stressful for you. In particular, just a warning – if anyone is watching this live and they’re going to try it, if you have vertigo please be very cautious. People with vertigo I would suggest that you might even start by doing a half circle or a quarter circle to see because you might need very little to cause a stimulus. When you’ve practiced this for a while, you’ll be able to spin faster. Initially do a little spin and if you find doing a little spin like that to the right suddenly, oh, I feel a little bit better.

What your system is asking for is, just challenge me a little bit and we’ll get better. That’s something you could just, again…you test to see, how’s my balance? Not as good as you want it to be. You try a drill, and if that improves your balance you know that’s a great drill for you. You keep doing it until it doesn’t work anymore, and usually you can do drills like this three to five times a day even if you want a really fast change. Even if you only do it once a day, it’ll stick eventually. If you just keep telling your nervous system, hey, this is important to me, eventually your nervous system will listen.

You know, and that’s the thing people! We go through our lives and we go to the gym to work our muscles and we’re going to lift the weights or we’re going to go for a run. You notice it’s a very routine, habitual movement. Now the other thing, of course, is Jim is one of our instructors for Discover Health Movement Membership which you may see on the backdrop of my virtual background here. Jim, during your class you’re focusing on all of these things because we call your part of the program “Movement for Longevity,” and your focus is on balance, strength, and movement. Summarize for people how you get at that with them. Meaning, that it’s not just like this calisthenic. You have a purpose behind it as far as improving people’s movement for longevity. What does that look like?

Yeah. So, there’s a couple of things. One of the things I do is I teach people how to listen to their nervous system. Many of us walking around, we have like a normal that we have. Oh, I can normally if I just stand still and bend over and touch my toes, you have a normal. Maybe you can touch your toes, maybe you can get a little past your knees, maybe you can get your palms all the way to the floor. You have this normal resting tension say. So, at the start of each class I have people test that to say, “Where are you today?” And I also do another one where you stand and see how far you can twist in each direction. In that you also have a normal.

Then what you can do is you can test one of these balance drills, and if your body relaxes from this drill, I know it’s good for you because your nervous system is basically saying, “Thank you.” It relaxed because it’s happy. It got a stimulus that’s challenging and is going to help your performance. On the other hand, the example of if someone’s balance is not very good and they decide to spin really fast. What they might find is their body just really tightens up. They go to reach down again and they can’t get their hands past their knees and they’re like, what just happened? Yeah, your nervous system just said, “Wow! That was a big challenge and now I’m freaking out a little bit. I’m stressed.” It’s a temporary effect, but it tells you whether what you’re doing is good for you, neutral maybe if you get no effect, or is a rehab drill something that stresses you out but is something you really need?

That’s one of the things that every class I show everyone, remind them, “Hey, let’s all check where we’re at today. Are we at our normal or not?” As we’re doing our drills, I ask people, “Check to see how that worked for you.”

The key is the biggest challenge with group classes is everyone doesn’t need the same thing. How can I do a group class when people need different things? This is how I do it. Because I’ll have you test the drill and then see how your body responds.Click To Tweet If your body says, eh, that doesn’t do anything for me, I show you how to make it more challenging. If you say, “Oh, that was really hard for me,” I give you a version to do easier. Now each of us are doing a similar drill but we’re doing the one that we need at that moment.

If you do this, come to class every week and I suggest to people to do ten minutes a day in between, you’d be amazed at how fast you can get results. I mean you know some of the stories, we have people that come in and I ask people to get down to the floor and back up. Some people the first class are like, what? All the way down to the floor? No, I can’t do that. And then a few weeks later they come into class bragging, “You know, I can get down to the floor and back up now with no problem. My friends can’t believe it!”

We all can improve. This is my goal for anyone is – no matter where you’re at, I know you can get better and I’m going to help you figure out how you can get there.Click To Tweet

That’s what’s so neat about your class and our program Discover Health Movement Membership. Again, it’s going to benefit everyone no matter what your age is and what your level of performance is. It’s going to help you optimize from wherever you are. Our main focus, as movement for longevity says, is that we are focusing on older people, but we have people who are elite athletes even in their fifties and sixties that love your class in particular. Again, it optimizes their ability to understand the interaction between their nervous system and their connective tissue system and their performance. It’s pretty amazing! So, again, quickly can you give a specific example of someone (don’t use names) but the idea particularly with balance can you give an example of someone and what types of things they did and worked on consistently. How long did it take for them to improve?

Yeah. I have a couple examples of people I’ve worked with that had vertigo. One had vertigo and another had a traumatic brain injury six months before I saw her or something. With these two individuals, a single treatment of stimulating the otoliths, semicircular canals. They both had inhibition on one side of their semicircular canals. Head rotation was a problem in one direction. One person had vertigo. The other one had…it might be considered vertigo. If they were moving and someone in their line of sight was moving in the opposite direction it was causing them issues. It was definitely a vestibular issue. In both of these cases, we did these little resets of semicircular canals and their symptoms just gone! It was amazing. I couldn’t believe actually that just doing some spins and kind of giving that stimulus was enough to reset their system. It’s not always that simple, of course.

We’ve had other situations. I remember we had someone come in who when I initially asked this woman to do a balance test where you kind of put your feet in front of each other heel to toe like you’re on a tightrope. She couldn’t get into this position without holding onto something. Even getting in the position to do the balance test was too difficult. She had to use support, get in the position, and then she could kind of start to take her hand off and struggled a little. Just with the eyes open. She was coming to class and it must have been maybe about six weeks later, I think, that one day she said, “Hey, look at this,” and she got in the balance position, put her arms out, and closed her eyes and showed me that she could actually do this balance position successfully which was just an amazing transformation to me. What you can imagine is that if you put someone in a really challenging position, kind of like they’re on this tightrope and have them close their eyes, it is a really challenging position. I do it all the time, I do it in the movement classes, I show one-on-one clients the same test. So, I do it all the time. It’s lot of days that it’s still challenging. I can do it, but it’s still work. When your balance is so good that you can do that, easy things like walking around you’re just so much more confident. You’re just sure that you’re fine because you know you’ve done much more difficult balance challenges.

One more example that I kind of brought up that I think is partially balance related is this woman who came in and getting down to the floor was just too much. Just within a few weeks of coming to class she was then confident, Yeah, I can get all the way down to the floor and back up. Two things that she mentioned that I thought were awesome is that she then was doing some work at home and was confident and was able to get up on a ladder and do some work on a ladder which she was like, what is happening to me? And then later she bragged to my wife, Coach Trish, that she actually was doing a breakdancing taster class!

To imagine someone was not comfortable getting down to the floor and then a couple months later was like, I think I’ll try this breakdancing class! It’s just amazing!Click To Tweet

Yeah, I know exactly who you’re referring to. I can remember at the end of class numerous times hearing her break out somewhat into tears as she thanked you for your class and how much she improved in such a short amount of time. That’s amazing.

One last thing I’d love to emphasize for folks is that many of us stretch on a regular basis, many of us don’t. My input is that everyone needs to stretch because my focus is on fascia and the connective tissue and the fact that if it’s too tight and dried up, you’re not going to be able to move the way you want. The other side of the coin is it’s an interaction again between your nervous system and your fascial system, your connective tissue system. The one thing I’ve noticed about especially your warm-ups and the things you try and focus on and all of your drills, you call them, of different movements that we do during class is that they’re very diverse and they’re in multiple different planes of motion. That’s going to play a lot into balance. If you’d comment on that, Jim.

Yeah. And I’ll definitely give credit to my Gray Institute training.

The Gray Institute where I trained in Applied Functional Science is really all about functional movement and it considers gravity, ground reaction force, mass, and momentum. The importance of understanding that our bodies move in three dimensions.Click To TweetWe move forward to back, we move side to side, and we move in rotation. Knowing our bodies in real life, that’s how we move in those three planes of motion. I make sure that in every class I do, some of the movements we’re doing are in all three planes of motion. For some of the things we’re doing, it’s really unusual actually because a lot of us in our daily activities probably spend most of our time in that forward to back. If you can imagine when you were younger, and we used to play and all types of stuff we tended to be more dynamic. What I’m trying to do is help people get back to that full function and optimal function by hitting all of those planes of motion.

The variety you talk about in class, part of it is introducing enough novelty to class that it forces your brain to pay attention. If you can imagine if I did the same exact things in every class, it would actually just become a little routine for you, and it would get a lot easier. You’d lose significant benefit from it. Instead, there’s a foundation of movements that I tend to use a lot, but then I’m always trying a few different things. Let’s see how this goes. Let’s see how those go. That novelty is going to help challenge your brain and your nervous system in general, your fascia getting things moving in different directions. There are a lot of different benefits. Certainly, that novelty is going to help balance, but I’m also trying to keep people’s brains really active, right? One of the concerns is cognitive decline. If we can get a lot of complex movement and do it on a regular basis, we’ll actually improve our brain function. Yeah, so the three dimensions to optimize our movement, but then a lot of novelty and just challenges to keep our brains sharp.

That’s another reason why I really wanted you as one of our instructors and wanted Applied Movement Neurology as a piece of it. Folks, so many of us cognitive decline…cognitive decline is one of my specialties that I work with people to prevent cognitive decline. You’ve got to keep challenging your brain. There’s are concept called “muscle memory” in sports. If you go into the gym and you always life the same weight, you always do the same weight-lifting routine then your muscles after a while go, okay, she or he is going to walk in this gym, they’re going to lift this much weight, and they’re going to do the same thing every time. You plateau. You stop gaining because you have muscle memory. Well, there’s also movement memory. Again, if you’re always running just forward, or moving forward and back and not implementing rotation or side bending or all of the things in between, then your brain and your body have memory and habitual movement. It just becomes plateaued. We need to challenge ourselves; we need to challenge our muscles; we need to challenge our nervous system and keep our brain optimally functioning.

Jim, thank you so much for coming on and having this conversation. I hope it has helped folks. People remember that Discover Health Movement Membership. if you want to learn more about it, you go to our website. My company is called Discover Health Functional Medicine Center, and the website is It will take you right to the homepage of our website with all the information about how to join Discover Health Movement Membership. With this membership, you don’t have to go out of your home. It’s all on Zoom. You get three instructors, Jim being one of them. I did a podcast last week on YouTube as well as our regular podcast channel with Meghan Vestal who is our yoga instructor. I’ve done also podcasts and webinar coming up in November with Lisa Buerk who is our Self-Myofascial Release instructor. Again, Thanks, Jim!

Thanks, it was great to have another conversation about this. Hopefully we’ll see some people in class!

Absolutely! Take care everyone, and we’ll see you on the next episode of Discover Health Podcast. Take care everybody.


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