As you get older, it’s more important than ever to take a proactive approach to your health. This includes getting routine medical screenings and making lifestyle changes to prevent chronic conditions like high blood pressure. Taking care of yourself also includes working to maintain and improve your balance, since it naturally deteriorates over time.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of every three adults age 65 and older falls each year. Between 20-30 percent of these falls lead to moderate or serious injuries, including fractures and head injuries that can be life altering. Falls are the leading cause of accidental death in adults age 65 and older.
Why does balance decline?
Muscle mass, which affects strength and agility, is essential for balancing and to avoid falling. As a normal part of aging, people begin losing muscle mass (sarcopenia) in their 30s – it’s not obvious in the mirror and can be years before it’s noticed.
Sarcopenia tends to advance more rapidly in people who are not physically active, but like bone loss, it occurs to some degree in everyone. Researchers believe contributing factors include:
- Reduction in nerve cells responsible for sending signals from the brain to the muscles to start movement
- Lower concentrations of some hormones, including growth hormone, testosterone and insulin
- A decrease in the ability to turn protein into energy
- Not getting enough calories or protein each day to sustain muscle mass
How likely are you to fall?
The majority of falls in the upper age bracket happen during periods of transition like sitting down at the dining room table or going up and down stairs. Poor balance even increases your risk for falling during simple activities like leaning over to tie your shoes or reaching for something in your pantry.
Falls also happen to one in 10 younger and middle-aged people every year, but the risk for falling and suffering a serious injury increases with age.
Even when there is no injury, a fall can make someone fearful that they will fall again. That could cause them to limit their activities and social outings, leading to further physical decline, isolation and/or depression.
What can you do to improve balance and reduce your fall risk?
Regularly engaging in exercises that strengthen your core can make a fall less likely both today and down the road. For example, standing on one foot for 7-10 seconds and then repeating with the other foot strengthens core muscles and helps maintain balance.
Below are some simple exercises you can do in your home. If you know you have problems with balance or if you have fallen before, it’s important to discuss these with your health care provider first.
When will you see results?
Thankfully, the body responds pretty quickly to exercise that is consistent. Balance can improve in just a few weeks by exercising at least twice a week. When it does, climbing steps shouldn’t be as taxing and sitting down or getting up won’t be as likely to cause a fall as it used to be.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]