The importance of maintaining balance as we age
As we get older, it’s more important than ever to take a pro-active approach to our health. This includes getting routine medical screenings and making lifestyle changes to prevent chronic conditions. Taking care of ourselves also includes exercising to maintain and improve our balance, since it naturally deteriorates over time. It’s a use-it-or-lose-it proposition.
We need a good balance to do just about everything, including walking, stepping over obstacles on rough or uneven surfaces, rapidly shifting direction while walking, getting out of a chair, and leaning over to tie our shoes.
What is balance and why does it matter?
Balance is the ability to control your body’s position, whether stationary (i.e. a complex yoga pose) or whilst moving (e.g. walking, getting up from sitting position). Maintaining an upright position and moving from place to place whilst staying balanced is a continual challenge for our bodies. Our success depends on the well-being and integration of many different systems within our bodies.
There are three main systems that provide us with the sensory information about our bodies and the surrounding environment that we need to maintain balance. These are the visual (eyes help to perceive direction and motion), vestibular (inner ear and semi-circular canals help to monitor motion and provides orientation clues) and somotosensory (sensation feedback from joints in ankles, knees, spine and neck to help to understand where our body is in space) systems. To maintain balance, our brains must rapidly and continuously integrate and then process the sensory information received from these systems, and this integration is often worse in older people who are prone to falls.
Benefits of doing balance exercises include:
- Prevents falls. Balance drills help you to control your core and limbs more deftly. When you have good balance, you can quickly adapt to changes in body position, adjusting on the fly to unexpected variations in elevation, or rocks that you didn’t see underfoot.
- Reduces the risk of lower extremity injuries. Avoiding falls not only helps you avoid physical damage like broken hips; it also boosts confidence. When you have good balance, you no longer have to worry about whether you might fall every time you leave the house.
- Improves proprioception which is the ability to know where you are in space.
How can you improve and maintain your balance?
- Balance training drills: balancing on one leg, walking as if on a tightrope (putting your heel right in front of your toe of the other leg).
- In particular, you may want to try Tai Chi. Tai Chi is a time-honoured martial art that involves slow, rhythmic movements, including rotation of the trunk, shifting weight, coordination, and a gradual progression to narrowing the lower extremity stance. It has gained recognition as a good exercise choice for the elderly. Studies have shown Tai Chi improves postural stability more so than other exercises. It also offers multiple musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary benefits.
- To stay steady you also need a good muscle strength. Add any activity or exercises that increases lower limbs strength. Practice sitting down and getting up from a chair without using your hands.
- Take a short walk each day, and gradually increase the time and distance you are walking.
- Do you know that dance is one of the greatest way to work on balance?
- Yoga, Pilates or balance training class can be a good option to help strengthen your whole body and train your balance.
How much balance exercise do you need to improve and maintain your balance?
There is no limit to how much balance training you can do safely — you can do it every day if you want. Studies show that doing three to six balance training sessions per week, with four balance exercises per training session, for 11-12 weeks was effective in improving people’s balance.
Below are 2 links to some simple balance exercises to help you get started.
If you need help to get you started, why not book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists at Woodside Clinic? Call us on Dunstable – 01582 608400 or Leighton Buzzard on 01525 372 447 to book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists or osteopaths or you can book online.