According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of adults over sixty-five fall each year. Most are not seriously injured, but broken bones and head injuries from falls land about 700,000 people in hospitals each year, the CDC says.
Tiffany Shubert, a physical therapist who is also a research scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill confirms this statistic and is quoted as saying “And once people fall or become noticeably unsteady, “fear of falling” itself becomes a problem. “People start to limit their activity because they are afraid, they might fall. That can have a huge impact on quality of life. “You are afraid to walk up and down stairs, so all of a sudden you can’t go to the movie theater anymore.”
The key is to be thinking about balance before you ever have a fall.
To give us some information about balance, we turn to Peter Wayne, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Peter maintains that balance is not just a matter of how well the vestibular system of the inner ear is working. Declines in strength, flexibility, vision, touch, and mental functioning can all contribute to balance problems. “Balance is a very complicated process,” he says. But improving it can be simple. Here are a few tips:
• Practice standing on one foot, challenging yourself to increase the duration. You can do it online at the grocery store or while brushing your teeth. If that is too difficult at first, start by using a chair back or bathroom counter for support. If it is easy, try raising your foot higher or holding it out to the side. For extra challenge, try standing on a throw pillow or closing your eyes.
• Try heel-to-toe walking, as if on a balance beam.
• Practice getting in and out of a chair without using your hands.
• Exercise while standing on a wobble board or Bosu ball (an inflated rubber disc on a stable platform).
• Try tai chi or yoga. The evidence that tai chi can improve balance is especially strong, and studies show it is quite safe for people of all ages and fitness levels. In a typical class, a series of movements is performed in a slow, graceful flow, accompanied by meditative deep breathing.
If you are an older adult that likes cycling, you may also want to consider adaptive cycling by outfitting a bike with a set of wheel stabilizers like FATWHEELS. These heavy duty “training wheels” retrofit to almost any bike on the market and they will provide you with the stability you need to enjoy the FUN, FREEDOM & HEALTH benefits of riding a bike despite any challenges that you may have with your balance.
And remember what Albert Einstein said; “Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance you must keep moving!”
Until next time,