By Tim Bean and Anne Laing –
Our sense of balance is amazing, but we don’t really give it much thought! If we stumble forward we instinctively arch back to keep from falling, and if we start leaning too far to the side, we automatically do a little side-step to correct our position. It is finely programmed to keep us upright whatever our situation. It is also instrumental in turning back your age clock.
Picture both ends of the ageing spectrum: Children have wonderful balance, as they are always challenging it in their play activities doing handstands, skateboarding, walking along the top edge of a low wall, and so on. Now observe those same children seventy years later: the gait is slow with small shuffling steps. There is a fear that they will fall or get knocked over and, instead of balancing on the kerb edge, it becomes a major challenge just to step over it.
This is not an inevitable part of ageing!
Test yourself on these Age Balance Tests regularly.
Balance Training Activity #1: “The Stork”
Standing on one leg, raise your other leg with the knee bent, until the thigh is parallel to the ground. Now close your eyes, and see if you can maintain your balance for 30 seconds. Do the same for the other leg.
Can’t do it? Start by practicing twice daily with your eyes open at first – eight to 10 attempts if need be – until you can do it successfully.
Next, do the exercise with your eyes closed, forcing your body to depend on the vestibular and proprioceptive systems (explained below).
Balance Training Activity #2: “The Clock”
It is often side, or lateral movements, where injuries occur most frequently – when slipping sideways on ice, or when water-skiing or snow-skiing for example. If you have difficulty performing the following step patterns, stand balanced on one leg, and simply point the other leg out toward each clock position without landing.
Method: Envision yourself standing in the middle of a clock face, with 12 o’clock directly in front of you. Take one lunging step with your right foot out toward 12, put your foot down and hold the lunge position. Retreat, and then take a similar step slightly to the right toward 1:30, then far to the right at 3:00, then step back onto 4:30 and 6:00. Do the same with your left foot working anti-clockwise from the 12 O’clock position through to 6 as well.
Knowing just where you stand…
Our body controls our balance from three systems.
Vision – extremely important for our balance. Our “Stork” age test seems easy when your eyes are open and you are mainly visually oriented, but by closing them you have to rely on the next two internal sensory systems for stability.
Vestibular system (located in the ear) – Tiny receptors in the inner ear message directly to the brain to control our balance. You just have to experience dizziness or Miniere’s disease to know the impact this has on our ability to simply remain upright.
Proprioception – the network of receptors reporting to the brain from the muscles, joints and the skin throughout the body via our nervous and bio-feedback systems.
You can certainly tell if these are not working. Try dialling the telephone after your arm has gone to sleep in an uncomfortable position!
Although taken for granted these systems operate constantly for you, even in sleep. To be at their sharpest and to work longer they need super-nutrition and the right exercise.
As we get older and more sedentary the receptors become less sensitive and speed, agility and co-ordination wanes. If we do less and less they become weaker and weaker, and like most aspects of our physiques, if we don’t use it we lose it.
One of the saddest consequences of failing balance, aside from the act of falling itself, is the fear of falling, and the impact that has on confidence, choice of activities, and quality of life.
The Good News!
Muscle weakness has a huge effect on our balance and our functional daily tasks because our balancing reflexes can’t work effectively unless our muscles are strong and the joints are supple enough to respond.
Just getting dressed is a great everyday example, as simply putting on your trousers while standing involves many muscle groups such as your ankles, thigh, back and buttocks. Also involved in this task is flexibility, coordination and proprioception. Next time you begin to shimmy into a pair of jeans, don’t let yourself off by sitting down to pull them up! This pathway towards that of a tottery senior is not one we all need to inevitably go down! Don’t accept it – avoid it.
Exercise classes, such as circuit training, step, or outdoor military-type fitness sessions, help significantly as they keep muscles in good condition at any age. By constantly strengthening muscle tissue, all the supply and support structures to those areas are invigorated as well. Also include yoga and any of your favourite sporting activities, just as long as they keep challenging your body with many different positions, movements and actions. Want to really push the boat out there? Try a few golf or tennis swings with your off-side and see how challenging that is…!
Keeping your balancing sensors sharp can be maximised by paying attention to good nutrition. Keep your weight, medication, alcohol and blood sugar in check. Sugar is one of the few chemicals that can corrode the enamel on your teeth, so you can imagine the corrosive effect it will have on those delicate sensory receptors within and throughout your body.
Carrying excess weight will also alter your posture, weight distribution, and thus your balance too. Try and maintain your waist circumference to less than 38 inches for men, and 30 inches for women.* Research has shown that waist measurements in excess of these benchmarks, can increase your risk of dementia by as much as 300%, and thus your brains ability to function effectively…!
Always start prevention early!
[*If you need to trim up a little, or have been struggling with your weight, check out our exciting new 12-week weight-management plan here. Here’s what most people don’t realise… or don’t want to admit. Despite all the progress in the world, our bodies still operate in the exact same manner they did more than 50,000 years ago! There is no technology or pharmaceutical “wonder drug” that can change the way our bodies process food and function around activity. Period.
As you progress through this 12-week course, you will cut through the fluff and discover the real science behind effective weight management, health maintenance and optimal ageing! Click here to find out more…]