The importance of good balance can never be underestimated. It is essential to good health and independence as we age. Senior citizens do not want to become dependent upon loved ones or caregivers to have basic needs addressed; they want to remain autonomous and self-directed. Good balance plays a huge role in achieving these goals.
Why Is Balance So Important?
Good balance prevents life changing accidents and falls from occurring later in life. It gives us control over our body, allowing us to navigate through each day and react quickly to the outside world. Our sense of balance is used whenever we are standing. The brain is constantly analyzing the body’s position to make small and quick adjustments to maintain its place. Our sense of balance shuts off when we are seated because the body is being supported.
There are two types of balance: static and dynamic balance. Static balance provides steadiness when standing or maintaining one position. Dynamic balance allows control over the body when moving and performing an activity like riding a bike.
Aging’s Impact on Balance
Some balance issues are caused by medical conditions, while others are caused by anatomical changes in the body, and some from just the lack of physical activity. Let’s take a closer look:
- Vestibular or inner ear problems. This organ helps to detect where the body is in space. As we age, cells in the vestibular system die and our body’s ability to “right” itself decreases.
- Eyesight. Depth perception, night vision and sensitivity to contrast affects balance. Loss of visual cues compromises balance and contributes to falls.
- Sudden dips in blood pressure. This condition also known as orthostatic hypotension causes a sudden feeling of dizziness when standing up.
- Loss of muscle mass and strength. A sedentary lifestyle coupled with curtailed physical activity leads to muscle atrophy and a general weakening of the body.
- Our reflexes slow as we age and it takes longer to react to challenging situations.
- Other risk factors. These include lower body weakness, problems with gait (walking), impaired hearing and some medications.
How to Improve Balance
Poor balance and falling is not necessarily just a natural part of aging. While balance does gradually degrade over-time, the decline can be slowed or even prevented in some cases. Consult with a physician for a full assessment, as a doctor will determine if a medical issue is the source of complications. Balance problems not caused by medical conditions can be rectified by increased activity and regular exercise.
Many people wrongly believe the best way to avoid balance related falls is to live a sedentary lifestyle. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The best way to maintain and improve balance is to get up, move and exercise on a regular basis. Balancing is like any other skill that needs to be practiced and purposefully improved.
Sample Exercise Program
Here is a sample exercise program, but check with your doctor before starting this or other any exercise regiment.
- First, warm up the muscles and loosen joints. Perform a series of shoulder rolls and arm rotations. Twist from side to side to wake up core muscles. Maintain a straight back and march in place lifting each foot off the ground. These exercises should ready the body for more strenuous exercise.
- Continue with ankle rotations. Sit or stand with your fingertips on the back of a chair for support. Raise your right foot slightly off the floor and slowly rotate it 10 times to the right. Reverse direction and rotate the foot another 10 times. Repeat with your left foot.
- Stand behind a sturdy chair, grasping the chair lightly for support. Draw your right foot up toward your left knee. Hold the position for 10 seconds, lower the foot and repeat with the left leg. Repeat for three to five times on each leg.
- Still holding on to that sturdy chair, stand on one leg for ten seconds then the other. Repeat this three to five times and eventually increase the length of time. Practice releasing one hand from the chair to provide a little challenge.
- Walk heel to toe. Move to one end of a long wall. Stand arm’s-length from the wall and turn so one shoulder is adjacent to the wall. Step forward on your right foot. Slowly shift your weight forward and step onto your left foot, touching your left heel directly to the toes of your right foot.
Fear of falling is a common experience for older people. It is important to not let that fear to take control and take the preventative necessary measures to improve balance.
Enrolling in a PACE program offers many benefits from a medical management standpoint. Access to physicians and other clinicians in a setting that provides supervision and safety is the primary reason why participants enroll. The benefits of the recreational activities are why participants stay.
To learn more about Beacon of Life services or to refer a participant to our facility, click here to contact us or call 732-592-3400.