Trying to “stand still” can be a bit of a contradiction. Even when your body is still and inactive, there are many muscles moving within your legs and core that create continual small adjustments to keep you upright. If those muscles are weak or if your brain and inner ear are giving you bad information about where your body is in space, you could fall or stumble. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one third of adults over the age of 65 fall every year, and one in five falls cause serious injury such as broken bones or head injuries. One half of people 75 or over will fall every year. Generally, men and women are affected equally.
However, losing your balance doesn’t have to be the norm. Areas of fitness such as flexibility and balance can be important to your fitness and your health, especially as you get older. Tight muscles and improper stretching, or lack of stretching, can create pain, preventing you from getting the full benefit of your workout, while a poor sense of balance could lead to falls and injuries.
Why Does Age Affect Balance?
According to Dr. Anthony Komaroff of Harvard Medical School, there are a number of reasons we are more likely to fall as we age:
- Balance is influenced by our inner ear, specifically, the vestibular system, which connects with our brain. As we age, the cells in our vestibular system begin to die, making it harder to correctly interpret body balance. If your inner ear is giving “bad” information about where your body is in space, you could become dizzy resulting in a fall or stumble.
- Our sight also affects balance and age can reduce clear vision, depth perception, and night vision.
- Some medications can cause dizziness and blurred vision.
- Quick changes in blood pressure associated with standing up or reclining can cause dizziness.
- The loss of reflexes, coordination, muscle mass, and strength increases the risk of falling.
Find Your Balance
So how do you know if you’re experiencing a balance problem? Tripping or falling are obvious indicators of balance issues, but there are ways to test your balance too. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) says that ideally, “you should be able to stand on one leg for at least 20 seconds unsupported, for static balance.” If you already know you have trouble balancing, make simple position shifts when trying to balance by shifting your weight and placing your feet in different positions.
The ACSM also states that it’s possible to improve your balance, but that could be a bit more challenging. To help improve your balance, increase the number of times or the length of your balance activity of choice, such as standing on one leg. Add movement to make the activity more dynamic and challenging, and reduce some of your other senses, such as closing your eyes while balancing.
Prevention.com has a few other tips to practice improving your balance, such as balancing on a wobble board, taking a tai chi class, walking heel to toe, or doing squats.
Getting to the Core of the Issue
Strengthening your abdominal muscles is another way to help you stay balanced. Whenever you feel like you’re losing your balance and you make an effort to regain stability, what’s actually happening is you are engaging your abdominal muscles and using your core. A strong core helps to stabilize your spine and pelvis, which improves balance. Ab muscles also affect your legs and the way that you stand and sit, so core-strengthening exercises will help support your spine so your body weight is not just placed on your bones.
When you practice balance exercises, make sure your core is engaged, and use your abdominal muscles to stay balanced. You can do your balance exercises pretty much anywhere, and at any time, as long as you have something sturdy nearby like a chair or a wall to hold onto for support.
Do you feel as if you might be experiencing issues with balance? If so, what are some exercises that you do to help your balance? Share your thoughts in the comments below!