Why is balance important? The simple answer is, so you will not fall! However, expanding further, stablity is crucial
because it can prevent traumatic and devastating secondary complications such as concussions, broken bones, internal injuries, joint dislocations and even death. There are certain age related changes within the middle ear that affect how the brain interprets body position. Inside your inner ear are structures called otoliths and within these otoliths are hair cells. As we change position the movement of your head causes these hair cells to sway and this movement sends a signal to the brain via the vestibular nerve which then stabilizes you. When we are younger these cells are numerous but with age these hair cells decrease in number and change strucuturally. The good news is that you can help compensate these challenges by practicing and developing better balance. This is why – for those of you who suffer from motion sickness – your brain cannot “keep up” with ” freqeunt shifts in movement, for example a plane experiencing turbulence, a ship in rocky water, or in a vehicle that makes many sudden stops and starts.
Remember, whenever performing balance exercises, try to do it when another person is present, particularly if you have serious issues and at the very least stand next to a studry object that can hold your body weight. Please never do balance exercises without some sort of assisting support within arms reach! For those who are recovering from serious illness or stroke, follow the advice of your Physician as you may need specific exercises done in a particular fashion under the guidance of a licensed Rehabilitation Therapist.
An introductory balance exercise for beginners is a “full tandem”. Stand next to a sturdy chair and place your right foot directly in from of your left forming a straight line and try to hold this position for 5 seconds without holding on to the chair (or using one hand) and repeat 5 times switching foot positions, left in front of right. Over time, attempt to slowly increase your release time and hold the position for 10 seconds, then progress to holding both arms outstretched with palms facing upward.
Fall prevention begins with a visit to your physician. According to the National Institute for Aging, over 2 million seniors visit the emergency room for fall related injuries – Ask your physician to test how quickly your blood pressure drops when you go from a sitting to standing position. Ask whether any medications you are currently presecribed contribute to a depression in blood pressure which can cause balance instability. Also, visit your opthamologist if you suspect you have cataracts (foggy/blurred vision) as this can inadvertently cause you to misstep and lose balance as well. Be sure to wear good shoes with rubber anti-slip soles and be take care when walking over slippery surfaces.
In addition to balance exercises, core strength and agility are very necessary components to stability. I always encourage my students to participate in Yoga, Tai Chi or Pilates. These are wonderful ways to improve your flexibility and core strength. Not only is it functional, you’ll feel great too!
Please watch Sharon’s Full Body and Fitness Workout produced by MATV on Comcast channels 3,15 and 22 and Verizon Channels 24, 26 and 28 Mondays at 10:30a.m. and Tuesdays at 6:30p.m. (www.MATV.org)
I also instruct Advance Core and Balance for Seniors at the Malden Senior Center – Call 781-397-7144 for details.
Remember to take care of yourself and…..