As we age, simple things we used to take for granted, such as keeping our balance as we go down the stairs, bending down to pick up a grandchild’s toy or reaching the top shelf in the cupboard, require more of our attention. Gradually, small actions become more difficult as the loss of bone and muscle mass as well as steadiness leads to a lack of balance and flexibility. Maintaining balance and flexibility is vital for retaining a comfortable quality of life, staying independent and avoiding and recovering from falls. Fortunately, keeping your balance and flexibility can be achieved by building simple exercise habits, and it’s never too late to start!
The Balancing Act
Balance is rarely thought about until we start to lose it. However, with one-third of adults over age 65 falling each year, we should start thinking about balance sooner than later. While the natural weakening of bones and muscles is a huge factor, many balance problems are caused by disturbances in the vestibular system in the inner ear, which is responsible for balance. Several medications categorized as ototoxic drugs can cause damage to the inner ear. Low blood pressure and circulatory problems (such as stroke) can also affect balance.
Maintaining your balance is achieved through exercise. Basic strength training can help keep your body resilient, and exercises that focus on balance can help you retain your ability to perform daily functions. Exercising benefits your balance in many ways by boosting reaction time, improving coordination, adding muscle mass, building stronger bones and increasing brain function – all important for preventing a serious fall. The simplest exercises can be done anytime, anywhere. For example, standing on one foot, walking heel-to-toe and doing single leg raises work muscles and your equilibrium at the same time. If you have a specific balance disorder, talk to your doctor about exercises that work the areas of your body most crucial to helping your condition.
Stretching Out Your Well-Being
Flexibility and balance truly go hand-in-hand. While stretching may not help to increase strength and endurance, it can make a significant difference in your ability to get around by maintaining or increasing your range of motion. Add stretches to your exercise routine for core areas of the body such as the neck, arms, legs, torso and back. Building a habit of maintaining flexibility will not only allow you to continue completing daily tasks with ease, but when unexpected physical demands occur (e.g., catching yourself if you trip down the stairs), your muscles will be more prepared to react to a fall.
Together, the benefits of maintaining balance and flexibility as we age can have a huge impact on our well-being, from performing everyday activities to preventing a fall. Considering the serious injuries and loss of independence caused by falls, a few minutes of simple exercises certainly goes a long way!
If you’d like to learn more about maintaining balance and flexibility, talk to your doctor or get in touch with organizations in your area, such as local gyms or senior living communities that have exercise programs specifically for older adults.