Everyone knows that becoming fit and exercising regularly has everlasting positive effects on the body and even the mind. Research has even revealed that just a few minutes of exercise is powerful enough to alter your DNA (in a good way). But one key exercise-related topic no one seems to be talking about is balance – something that gradually diminishes as you age. Being able to balance could save you later in life.
It isn’t as much of an issue at a younger age, but falling has an overall significant impact on the older population. And like it or not, we will all fall into that category some day. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, 1 in 3 adults age 65 and older falls each year, causing a notable amount of fractures and head injuries. About 20-30% of those who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as lacerations, hip fractures, or head traumas. Needless to say, the injuries could very well result in life-long difficulties, and may even increase the risk of early death.
So what does it take to maintain the skill of balance? Firstly, balance as a whole is determined by multiple factors: a complex series of tubes, fluids, and sensitive hairs within the inner ear, your eyes, and joints, to name a few. Anything that may disrupt these factors could result in poor balance. Additionally, poor balance can be one of the numerous side-effects of certain medications. Poor diet, blood pressure issues, or some serious disorders could has have a negative affect.
Since balance is influenced by many factors, there are numerous methods to improving the skill. You could have an ear exam to detect any ear disorders, or research the possibility of a medication-related issue. But the most popular, and probably the most practical, approach to increasing balance is to physically train for it. Balance is, in effects, falls into the ‘use it or lose it’ idiom.
“Skills such as timing and coordination that are involved in balance are learned and practiced and honed,” says Sabrena Merrill, a personal trainer in Kansas City, Mo., who specializes in balance training. The more we sit, the more those skills erode.
Researchers in one study, published in the journal Osteoporosis International, assigned a balance training program to women with osteoporosis for a full year. By the end of the study, it was found that balance was improved from simple exercises like walking on your heel, on the tips of your toes, or walking sideways. Functional and static balance improved, along with mobility.
When it comes to balance-specific training, “Your ultimate goal is to be able to maintain your balance in tricky situations,” Sabrena Merrill, a personal trainer says. “If I have a client with poor balance skills, I’ll start off with safe floor exercises, then progress to standing on two feet, then on one leg. If they can do that without assistance, that means they have challenged their systems to the point where they’re sufficient for everyday functional activities.”
Here are some exercises you could do for balance:
- Walk sideways
- Stand on 1 foot
- Walk on your heels
- Walk on the tips of your toes
- Tai chi
- Performing carido outdoors, as opposed to using stationary machines like an elliptical or bike