There are really 4 main pillars to exercise and movement for Wellbeing. Strength, Endurance, Balance and Flexibility. Let’s start with balance. It is after all what keeps us from falling – our constant fight against gravity.
Statistics and Data
According to the CDC, “falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among adults age 65 and older, and the fall death rate is increasing.” Further, the World Health Organization told us in 2018 that “each year an estimated 646,000 individuals die from falls globally. Adults older than 65 years of age suffer the greatest number of fatal falls. (Also) 37.3 million falls (that) occur are severe enough to require medical attention each year.”
The National Institutes of Health, in 2020 tells us that “falls can be caused by dehydration, ageing circulation, medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, heart conditions, and some medications used to treat high blood pressure. They can also be caused by inner ear problems like vertigo and problems with your heart rate or rhythm.” A study by the NIH in 2013 stated that “annually, almost 38,000 adults age 65 years or older were treated in U.S. Emergency Departments for falls associated with carpets (54.2%) and rugs (45.8%). Most falls (72.8%) occurred at home. Women represented 80.2% of fall injuries. The most common location for fall injuries in the home was the bathroom (35.7%). Frequent fall injuries occurred at the transition between carpet/rug and non-carpet/rug, on wet carpets or rugs, and while hurrying to the bathroom.”
Use it or Lose it…
With all that data and research done regarding falls, many of which can be prevented, we cannot ignore the need for improved balance throughout life, especially into our retirement years. It’s probably obvious, but the reason falls increase in those years is due to the progressive inactivity that accompanies many into retirement. And Balance is absolutely a “use it or lose it” function in our lives.
What can I do?
We understand that balance is serious. What does that mean to those of us not in retirement? Should we be worried now, or can we ignore it?
I would recommend you don’t put off until tomorrow what you can positively affect today. In other words, build the better habits now, and maintain them through your life. It takes away the “old dogs… new tricks” adage we all know.
Balance is acomponent of safetythat is built through performance of strength training exercise to a point, but we also should incorporate specific balance exercises into our daily routine.
How often should I do it?
Balance is THE pillar of exercise that can be done daily if you want. It is low impact, not challenging to most for endurance, and usually less than a moderate intensity for activity overall. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that we incorporate balance at least three to four times per week, and a study from 2015 suggested that doing so for just 3 months will show an improvement in a person’s overall balance.
Where do I start?
On a level smooth surface with a nearby fixed or stable item for support as needed. The starting point is easy, simply place your hand or hands on the support item and lift one foot. Use your hands as much or as little as needed. Stay for a slow count to ten.
If you are using your hands so much that you’re not wobbling a little, your body isn’t learning to balance. That little wobble is your body learning how to contract the muscles the right way to keep you in one position for as long as it needs to.
Now do the same thing with the other leg. You may find that one side is harder to balance on than the other. That is completely normal. Usually, it stems from how we lean when we stand. Just like one arm is often stronger than the other, one leg is often stronger as well. You need to be able to balance equally on each leg. That is the start of it all. From here we progress as possible and tolerated.
Exercises for Home
Let’s review a few beginning balance activities, and as we progress, we incorporate strength along with balance to make it better, faster.
· Single Leg Stance
· Heel Raises
· Toe Raises
· Tandem Stance
· Stand on one leg slow kick forward, backward, and sideways
· Marching in place
Wrap it up
Remember practice balance as a part of your wellbeing at least 3 days per week. Any combination of these beginning balance activities can be incorporated to what else you do. Also remember, balance is Use it or Lose it. Let’s not lose it.