Balance Training for Better Quality of Life
As I approach yet another birthday my perspective on what age is considered old is transforming. Some of the ladies who exercise with me are a big part of my changing attitude. They are women who are in their 60’s, 70’s and I even have one who is 89 years old and they go the distance with the younger girls in an hour long class. You’ve heard the saying “use it or lose it”? Well baby, they’re using it. So much in fact that sometimes they forget their limitations.
One of my 70+ friends was in a hurry to change a light bulb, hopped up on a rickety chair, lost her balance and broke her back. It took a year for her to get back to 90-percent of her normal self. Gee, if that chair wasn’t so high she was probably strong enough to catch herself because she exercises most days. But this time she just didn’t understand her limitations for climbing on something that high and unstable. For many lucky people, the mind doesn’t let you feel as old as your age.
For those over age 65, one in three people take a fall that leads to decline in health and loss of independence according to the National Institute on Aging. That’s why there are currently on-going studies to determine what can be done to prevent such injuries. So far there is an overwhelming consensus that balance training is key.
I was happy to read about balance training programs with names like “Upright Balance” or “A Matter of Balance”, around the country targeting seniors. These programs help people realize their limitations as they get older and work to overcome them. They do exercises like stepping off a riser with a large exercise ball to simulate descending stairs with a laundry basket. Or navigating an obstacle course of yoga mats and weights so they understand their limitations. Then they’re taught how to maintain posture and go up a flight of stairs with weak knees by climbing sideways and leading with a stronger leg.
Balance training is not just a good idea for the elderly.
Balance is required to simply walk. Think of a wobbly toddler who is just building those balance muscles. Many of your daily activities, like carrying groceries or climbing stairs, require you to have a strong center and sense of stability.
Athletes need a very strong center to be able to react quickly to dodge an opponent or simply run faster. Pregnant women need to gain a new sense of balance as their bodies change. Stroke victims or anyone else who has had an injury forcing them to be bed ridden must also work to regain their muscles for balance.
What’s the point? At any age be sure that balance training is part of your exercise regimen or at the very least something to add to your daily or tri-weekly routine. For my aging ladies in my fitness class, every winter when it’s icy outside, I add an extra challenge to the cool down requiring them to hold a position on one foot. It’s wonderful to see people who are teetering the first time then work up to holding a pose gracefully.
If you want to kick it up a notch, use a BOSU or other balance device. Many class participants groan when we drag out the BOSU. It is so darn challenging! But it’s very effective! It is a half ball device. You can stand on either the ball side or the flat side. Beginners start standing on the ball side then progress to marching and then standing on one foot. When they’re really strong they can flip it over and balance on the flat side. I’ve noticed a major improvement in my ankles’ strength by using this tool. I used to sprain them regularly.
Yoga or Tai Chi is a great way to add balance training to your life. But it’s too slow for most of the cardio “Boomers” in my class. So I’ll keep making them strike a pose.
If you think you might need some balance training in your life be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning. Find a link below with some exercises from the Mayo Clinic. Or at the very least, start by balancing on one foot while brushing your teeth. Try to lengthen the amount of time everyday or add a different task, like closing your eyes.
It’s a small strengthening challenge that can help keep your body strong and feeling young.
STRIDE Study on preventing injuries: http://stride-study.org
International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3812830/