Balance: Stay Vertical – Resist the Hidden Danger of Falling
Even in Your 30s and 40s, Specific Exercises Help Prevent a Big Danger of Aging
You know it when you feel it
If you find yourself needing to sit down to take off your shoes, it might be time to start paying attention to your sense of balance.
People don’t usually think about balance until they fall or know someone they never thought would. There are signs that cannot be ignored such as holding onto hand rails to go up and down the stairs, wavering as you step into a pair of pants, missing the lip on a curb. These situations can be an early warning sign that your stability is starting to decline.
Once recognized, it is important not to dismiss the signs because loss of balance is usually treatable, but will often get worse if ignored. A formal assessment may not indicate balance issues, but does help predict the chances of becoming “one with the floor”.
Hidden dangers if we ignore our balance
We lose the equivalent of seven pounds of our muscle strength each decade from early adulthood on, if no action is taken.
- By age 60 we have lost 30%
- By age 70 we have lost 45%
- By age 80 we have lost 60%
Which Comes First, the Fall or the Fear?
The research into falls, fall risk and fall prevention is extensive because falls are the leading cause of injuries in adults over age 65 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every 17 seconds, someone in this age group is treated in an emergency room for a fall. Every 30 minutes, someone will die from their injury. Two-thirds of those who fall will do so again within six months without intervention.
Weak muscles, which support joints, and weak bones, are compromised. After six months following a fall, only 15% of people are able to walk across the room unaided. Assisted devices become a new companion and relocation to an assisted living community becomes the new reality.
What couldn’t you do today that you were able to do a year ago?
A friend in her fifties recently told me when she went fishing a year ago and she was fearless when walking across a log laid over a stream in the woods. This year, she instinctively knew she would fall into the stream if she tried to cross on that same log; her balance had deteriorated that much in just a year’s time.
Muscle groups and other causes of imbalances effecting function
- Poor postural muscles pulling you forward and down
- Tight hip flexors when sitting too long affects gait
- Tight hamstrings which can lead to back pain
- Tight calf muscles can cause knee to internally rotate
- Decreased sensation in legs and feet (from aging, diabetes or neuropathy)
- Vision impairment
- Dizziness or vertigo (from the side effects of medications, anemia, dehydration, stroke, Parkinson’s disease or other neurological ailments)
What Do the Experts Say?
Specific recommendations are done after a formal evaluation is performed. Only functional, evidence-based tests are used such as the Functional Fitness Test, Berg Balance Scale, Fullerton Advanced Balance Scale, Dynamic Gait Index, Timed Up and Go Test and more. Clients are tested with and without footwear, and with and without assisted devices, when appropriate. The recommendations from 2010 guidelines still hold those specific programs for treatment. They must include multi-positional balance, gait and strength training, such as tai chi, physical therapy or personal training with a certified professional.
Careful interpretation of evaluation results can provide a meaningful basis for developing a fitness plan that meets an individual’s short and long-term goals for functional mobility. With the right toolbox, clients can learn how to target and re-train certain muscles, transfer weight, improve motor control, balance, coordination, synchronization of muscle groups and neuromotor control.
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