2017-07-05 / Columns

Maintaining balance as you age is crucial for staying active

CEO/ Jewish Senior Housing and Healthcare Service

If you frequently experience lightheadedness or feel as though the room is spinning, you may have a balance issue. Not sure? Try standing on one foot for a full minute; if you didn’t make it, you’re not alone.

A study in USA Today showed that people in their 30s and 40s came close to the minute mark, but as older people tried, fewer hit it. People in their 60s averaged 40 seconds; those in their 70s averaged 27 seconds; and those in their 80s made it just 12 seconds.

As we age, critical systems begin to weaken. Like strength, agility and muscle mass— balance may begin to decline in midlife. Some medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, impaired vision, inner ear problems and Parkinson’s, can affect one’s sense of balance—as can certain medications.

Why is balance loss a problem? The risk for falls—which can undermine a senior’s independence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly more than one-third of adults over 65 fall each year. More than 90 percent of hip fractures result from falls. Falls also can lead to fractures of the spine, arms, legs, pelvis and more. Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths.

Another problem: Fear of falling. A researcher at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that once people fall or become noticeably unsteady, they may begin to limit their activity—from less exercise to less time spent outside of their home. This can have a huge impact on overall quality of life.

The good news: There are easy steps to improve balance. Think of balance like muscle strength—the more you use it, the less likely you are to lose it. Balance exercises, coupled with strength exercises, can prevent falls by improving a person’s ability to control and maintain body position.

The National Institutes of Health suggests a variety of exercises to improve balance, such as walking heel to toe and leg raises, which can be found on their website: www.nihseniorhealth.gov. According to www.saveourbones.com, a recent study showed there is scientific validity to the simple “flamingo trick”—standing on one leg. Researchers found that periodically standing on one leg does in fact improve balance, prevent falls and can even enhance independence.

Tai Chi is another activity that can help to improve balance. The slow, flowing motion of Tai Chi trains people to shift their weight while maintaining balance. These slow, deliberate movements also help improve stability and protect against falls.

Balance exercises are relatively easy and can be practiced virtually anywhere— and often. To safely complete these exercises, have something sturdy nearby to hold on to if you become unsteady or use a chair if needed. In general, exercise keeps muscles and bones strong. It also helps keep joints, tendons and ligaments flexible. In turn, your balance and the way you walk may improve, ultimately lowering your fall risk.

Lions Gate, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Voorhees, offers an array of balance improving exercise classes, rehabilitation therapies and wellness programs to residents so that they can improve their balance, strength and endurance…leading to a healthier lifestyle and lowered risk for falls.

Lions Gate is available as a resource to area seniors.

For more information, call Peggy O’Neill, director of Sales & Marketing, at (856) 782- 1200.


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