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Balance Observations at my 50th H.S. Reunion

Just attended my fiftieth high school reunion last weekend; it was big fun and very emotional.  In a discussion afterwards with friends about how our classmates “aged”, I was surprised with my own unique take on the topic.  Rather than the usual criteria of such things as wrinkles, hair loss, weight gain, and grey hair, I was focused on a whole set of other factors which I couldn’t define initially. These factors – I soon realized –  had to do with all the things we talk about in my Balance Classes at the gym:  erect posture and trunk position (i.e. center of gravity);  ability to stand upright with a cocktail in your hand without holding on to something or someone (i.e. balance equilibrium); resistance to getting knocked into or knocked down on the  crowded dance floor (i.e. stability);  walking with confidence and control and speed across the room (i.e. dynamic balance or mobility).  I underline the word confidence here, because some people just seem to exude that elusive quality of spirit and enthusiasm with how they move their body. These were honestly the factors for me in distinguishing those of my classmates who were aging the best!

Is Loss of Balance Inevitable?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), emergency rooms treat a 65+ fall victim every 17 seconds.  Our sense of balance is controlled by part of the brain called the cerebellum. To keep you balanced, the cerebellum relies on your vision, tiny hairs in your inner ear that detect gravity and motion, and nerves on the bottom of your feet that “read” your body position. As we age, each of these systems starts to erode, leading to a gradual loss of the ability to maintain balance. You may notice a decline in an area of your own functional performance, such as walking up the steps and needing to hold on.  But while certain declines as we age are unavoidable, it has been repeatedly proven by fitness experts – and I am a believer from my own experience and from my observation of my students in balance classes – that much of the sense of balance can be maintained and even restored through exercises and practice.

4 Tips to Better Balance

1.  See the big picture and eliminate the obstacles you can:  The big picture is that complex interaction of factors that determine how balanced you are; including your medical conditions, your medicines, your eyesight and hearing, your lower body and core strength, condition of your joints, your weight and general fitness level, your home environment.  Assess yourself within this big picture and identify any obstacles to good balance that you are able to eliminate or reduce.  Obstacles you can control:for example, if a medicine makes you dizzy, consult with your doctor; if you need a new pair of glasses or shoes with more support, get them; if you’ve been tripping over throw rugs at home and the lighting is too dim, make the corrections.

2.  Set your own Functional Goal:  Each of us wants to perform well and enjoy daily tasks.  If declining balance is affecting an area of your daily functioning, set a goal to improve this area.  Eliminate the attitude that poor balance is inevitable as you age and aim to strengthen the systems that control your balance. Give it a try.

3.  Learn How:  Experts say that even a few exercises every day, 5-10 minutes of your time, can help to improve your balance. Do things at home;  stand on one foot as you go through your daily routines like talking on the phone, or brushing your teeth, or cooking.  When walking outside, alternate between different types of surfaces to strengthen muscles.  Join a balance class at a local fitness center or senior citizen center or hospital.  Get exercises on the internet;  just google “balance exercises” and you will find much information.  Buy a book that includes balance exercises or consult with a physical therapist or physiatrist to learn how.

5.  Practice, Practice, Practice:  After you learn the proper and safe way to perform these exercises, practice, practice, practice. After a short time of regular practice, I’ll bet you make progress toward your functional goal.  If you have a regular exercise routine. make sure you include a balance component.

The photo below on left was taken on the evening of my fiftieth high school reunion as my girlfriend and I were practicinBosu ballg a balance move! Photo on right is at Empower Fitness as a gym member practices her balance on a bosu ball (by the way, this gal has had a bilateral knee replacement!)

balance practice

  1. This is a GREAT article!

    You write just like I’ve heard you teach: clear, simple, supportive!

    I want to make sure I know when you have a new post!!!!

  2. Such a comprehensive view of balance issues. Simply and clearly stated, well-documented information that we can all incorporate into our wellness plans. That’s what matters the most…usable strategies to improve our balance. Great piece. And I learned something new to boot!! Thanks!!

  3. SO WELL WRITTEN Joan, I try each day to follow your advice!!!
    Keep up your continued talents, so all of us can benefit from your words of wisdom.
    Thanks, Thanks, Thanks!!!

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