By Carol Wilson ~
Maintaining good balance is important at any age. When we’re younger, good balance is mostly a matter of keeping our core muscles strong. But as we age, other factors may have an effect. Weakened muscles, poor vision, or taking certain medications are three examples that can compromise our ability to remain steady on our feet. The natural aging process does not mean that we are constantly on the brink of falling.
Many of us trip or take a tumble occasionally. As we grow older, however, the risks associated with falling become greater.
When we lose physical strength and bone density, our sense of balance can become progressively worse. For many of us, we take longer to recover from a fall. Shockingly, this process begins, in some, around the age of 25.
The human body, has a small base relative to its height, making it inherently unstable. Maintaining an upright position and moving from place to place while staying balanced is a continual challenge for many of us.
Our ability to maintain an upright position and move from place to place depends on the well-being and integration of many different systems within our bodies.
There are three main systems within our bodies that provide us with the sensory information about our bodies and the surrounding environment that we need in order to maintain balance.
These three systems and sources of information are the visual (eyes); vestibular (inner ear and semi-circular canals); and somatosensory (sensation feedback from joints in ankles, knees, spine and neck).
In order to maintain balance, our brains have to integrate and process the sensory information received from these three systems – a process that becomes more difficult as we age, and even more difficult for older people who are prone to falling.
How our motor and muscle systems respond are the result of planned and unplanned challenges to our stability that may be brought on by simple everyday movement patterns like bending over to tie our shoelace, or recovering from a misstep or from a playful push.
Taking a tumble
Falls occur when we exceed our bodies’ capabilities to maintain equilibrium.
Falls are more likely to occur as we age. As we become less active or inactive, our ability to maintain balance may decline as may our cognitive abilities.
As a result, maintaining balance and preventing harmful falls may require ever-greater mental focus. Poorer cognition can also limit our ability to multitask – the “stops walking when talking” phenomena, can be observed among many of the elderly.
Another result of aging is that the quality of the information received from our visual, hearing and sensory feedback from our joints in our ankles, knees, spine and neck decline.
As we age, our eyesight often deteriorates which results in increased susceptibility to glare and poor depth perception. This can lead to misinterpreting the lay of the land, or in misjudging distance, which can result in more frequent incidents of falling.
Diseases in weight-bearing joints, such as arthritis, may cause errors in foot placement, while distorted or painful feet and poorly-fitted shoes can pass misleading information to the brain about the nature of your contact with the ground when you’re walking.
Vertigo or inner ear infections are causes of dizziness, which can also increase the risk of falling.
Taking certain medications that are commonly prescribed among the older population – such as aspirin, quinine, and some antibiotics and diuretics – can lead to problems in joint function.
All these age-related changes increase the likelihood of falling, as we are faced with more and more planned or unplanned challenges to our balance during our day-to-day lives.
This downward spiral creates a risk to older people resulting in a vicious spiral of inactivity which, in turn, are themselves accelerated by an increase in sedentary behavior, which in turn leads to a greater reduction in strength and balance, loss of bone and an increased risk of falling.
Never too late
The good news is, that it is possible to break this downward spiral and vicious circle, slow the process of deterioration; improve and/or restore strength and balance in addition to reducing the risk of future falling by becoming more active.
We should all aim to be active every day and build up to 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week in order to build strength and balance. Examples of moderate exercise include lifting weights, yoga, Tai Chi, posture stability classes, and dancing.
It’s never too late to start
By concentrating on good nutrition, good sleep, fresh air, consistent, moderate forms of exercise, we can increase strength and balance and help maintain our bodies’ complex systems, and avoid having to become dependent on others. https://www.facebook.com/carol.wilson.52438