It’s one thing to be klutzy but when you get older nobody laughs about balance—falling is one of the most serious medical problems facing us as we grow older. In fact balance is a crucial survival skill, but it’s also perishable. The muscles we use to stand tall weaken ever so gradually after we hit 30 (yes 30 years old). The length of our stride shortens, the pace of our steps slows and our vision can be compromised. Even menopause can make our gait a tad more wobbly.
Aging isn’t the only reason we lose our balance. Have you ever witnessed children balance-walking along a step or rail or walking along a painting line heel to toe just for fun? Balance is really a use it or lose it thing – and it falls into my favourite topic of “we don’t play enough as adults”. More on that another day. How well we keep our balance can protect us in many ways. Statistics show that 1in 3 adults over age 65 takes a serious tumble each year and avoiding falls can mean a longer life. Approximately 20% of women who fracture a hip become permanently disabled and some research claims that health problems linked to hip fractures result in more women’s deaths each year than breast cancer.
The problem is that we are often unaware that our coordination is slipping. While there are signs of clumsiness such as poor handwriting or constantly banged-up shins and knees, even naturally agile people need to work to boost balance with age.
You can improve your balance if you continue to challenge it. Here are some strategies and a simple test to help strengthen the core and lower-body muscles that keep you steady on your feet.
Stand on one leg
Try to do this while you are washing the dishes. When you can hold the pose for 30 seconds on each side, stand on a less stable surface, such as a couch cushion; to increase the challenge even more, do it with your eyes closed.
Walk heel to toe
The same sobriety field test police give drunk drivers also improves balance. Take 20 steps forward, heel to toe. Then walk backward, with toe to heel, in a straight line.
Sturdy legs can help prevent a stumble from turning into a fall. To build quads start with a simple squat: With feet hip-width apart, bend knees and hips and slowly lower yourself as if sitting in a chair behind you. Keep arms straight out, abs tight, back straight, and knees above shoelaces. Stop when thighs are parallel to the floor (or as close as you can get), then contract glutes as you stand back up. Aim for 3 sets of 10, with a 1-minute break after each set.
Practice the force
It takes muscle strength to get out of a chair, but it takes muscle force to do it quickly. We lose muscle force faster than strength and according to new research, it takes older women longer to build it back up.
Try this move: Instead of gingerly rising from a chair, once in a while leap out of it so forcefully that you need to take a few running steps after you do it.
Test Your Balance
Try these three moves to see how well you can balance.
- On both feet: Stand with feet together, anklebones touching, and arms folded across chest; then close your eyes. Have someone time you: Though it’s normal to sway a little, you should be able to stand for 60 seconds without moving your feet. Next, place one foot directly in front of the other and close your eyes. You should be able to stand for at least 38 seconds on both sides.
- On one foot: Stand on one foot and bend other knee, lifting nonsupporting foot off floor without letting it touch standing leg. (Do this in a doorway so you can grab the sides if you start to fall.) Repeat with eyes closed. People age 60 and younger can typically hold the pose for about 29 seconds with their eyes open, 21 seconds with their eyes closed. People age 61 and older: 22 seconds with eyes open, 10 seconds with eyes closed.
- On ball of foot: Stand on one foot with hands on hips, and place nonsupporting foot against inside knee of standing leg. Raise heel off floor and hold the pose—you should be able to do so for 25 seconds.
If you live on the northside of Brisbane, then we have a class that’s sure to help you with your balance!
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