Aging is going to happen whether we rebel against it or not but we do have some control over aging well. Unfortunately, it is well documented that the likelihood of developing balance issues as you age is significantly high. This is because as we age we lose full balance function through a decreased or loss of sensory processing, the ability to integrate the information and issue motor commands and because we are generally weaker. Increased incidences of falls are one of those realities but with a little effort you can minimize it being your reality.
Ideally we want to begin to address these issues long before we need them however you can start at whatever level you are capable of and progress from there. Safety when performing these exercises is critical so I always insist that some one else is present especially when you first start. What we do know is that repeating specific movements will create a new neurological pattern in your brain. In addition by performing these repetitions you will strengthen the muscle utilized in balance. The more repetitive the movement the stronger the neurological connection and the easier you can access the movement.
I frequently discuss this with most of my more senior patients at some point and with a minimal amount of effort they find significant improvement and minimize the chance of injury while feeling stronger and more stable.
Consider trying the following simple exercises as recommended by the National Institute on Aging:
- Standing up from a seated position without pushing up with your arms. This will activate your gluteus muscles, which often don’t fire optimally as you age.
- Try standing in front of your kitchen counter or behind a sturdy chair. Gently place your hands out in front of you on the surface to steady yourself. Creating a slight space between your hands and the counter then lift one leg off the floor with a bent knee, look straight ahead and hold for ten seconds. Repeat with the other leg. Try to do five times each side morning and night. When you feel comfortable lift you hands up higher but keep them outstretched in case you need to catch yourself. When you are proficient try doing this with your eyes shut. (Continue to keep your hands out in front.)
- Placing one foot behind the heel of your front foot and perform Heel/Toe walk. (walking in a straight line) Choose a spot in front of you and keep your eyes focused on it as you take a step moving the back foot in front of the lead foot. Keep your arms out to the side to assist in your balance and repeat for twenty steps morning and evening
- When you have become fairly proficient with the above exercises try doing some of your regular exercises such as bicep curls or stretching on a large exercises ball. Performing exercises on the ball initiates a muscle in your abdomen called the transverse abdominus, which is a critical muscle recruited in balance.
If you are someone who likes to participate in a class experience I highly recommend Thai Chi as a safe effective gentle way to incorporate balance exercises into your life. Thai Chi can best be described as continuous flowing movement. It incorporates your whole body, is very gentle and almost anyone can participate. There are many places around town that specialize in groups specifically for the aging. Cate Morrill in Little Five Points has a company called Shoulders Down Inc., 404-525-6466 or try Jude at Decatur Healing Arts 404-378-6288.
I encourage you to try a number of these options and decided what works best for you. The sooner you begin the less likely you are to develop problems in the future so please get busy now!