I assess balance every day to ensure that my patients can perform, as what I like to call them, “industrial athletes”. Ensuring that my patients can climb a ladder or walk on an uneven surface is very important in my field. And it is very important as we age and head into our retirement years as it can reduce our risk of a fall and injury. General health and wellness are essential as we age. In my ebook, Second Chance at Health-Learn to Love Active Living and Clean Eating I have just the plans for you!
How is Balance Maintained?
Balance is a complex interaction between the eyes, ears, muscles, heart, blood vessels and brain (the nervous system). Your eyes will give you clues from your environment. If you lose your balance when you close your eyes, you can experience this.
Have you ever have stuffy ears from an allergy or cold, that affected your sense of equilibrium? This happens because within your ear the balancing cells are getting additional information from the fluid floating around.
Your muscles and nerves work together to keep body awareness of your limbs in space, and it is very complicated. Your nerves convey information into your brain to make adjustments to your body to maintain being upright.
This is a very simplistic explanation of balance. I am not wanting to get into the physiology of it as much as what you can do to maintain the health of your balancing system in order to remain injury free.
Balance is extremely complicated and most of us are able to manage our balance without any difficulty. But for those who have had to deal with it…it can be debilitating. One may need to miss work, be unable to drive, or even participate in everyday activities.
One super interesting fact is that astronauts experience dizziness and loss of balance for the first few days in space. When they arrive back on earth as their bodies need time to readjust to the different signals that the earths environment has.
What does this have to do with fitness in middle age?
Well, no doubt you knew that I was going to tell you. Balance is an important health measurement especially in our 50’s and 60’s. Balance is considered a predictor of overall health. Poor balance can indicate multiple different problems and will put you at risk for falls. Falls can be incredibly dangerous.
What Can Cause Balance Problems?
Balance problems can arise from many different issues. Some of the most common medical conditions include problems with the inner ear such as Meniere’s disease, vestibular neuritis, acoustic neuroma, or migraine. Balance can be affected by cardiovascular disease, heart rhythm problems, and low blood pressure. Joint issues and muscular weakness can also lead to balance issues. Nerve damage from diabetes can also affect balance. Anxiety, hyperventilation or other psychiatric conditions can affect it too. Medication is an often overlooked cause of new onset balance issues.
Are there Tests to Assess your Balance?
As always, it is important to rule out serious and significant causes of imbalance first. Those tests may include, hearing tests, and posture tests administered by specialists, imaging (like MRI or CT scans), and blood pressure and heart monitoring. The results of those tests may help determine the cause and the treatment plan.
Can Imbalance be Treated?
Depending on the identified reason for the imbalance, there are options. Treatments may include surgery (for the acoustic neuroma or Meniere’s disease), balance retraining, medications, diet and lifestyle changes.
What is an easy way to assess my balance if I am not having dizziness or other issues?
I am so glad that you asked that question.
A simple 1 minute balancing test can help you identify yet another health parameter for you to improve so that you can remain joyously active into your later years.
Physical therapists use this test with other more specific tests but this one is simple and can be a useful indicator when taking into account your fitness level.
To perform this test simply stand on one leg and time yourself. You should be able to do this for one minute, anything less than 30 seconds indicates that there is some work to be done.
Interestingly, if there are NO medical or physical reasons that you can identify for your inability to stand on one leg for more than 30 seconds, practice will improve it rapidly.
My advice for those of us over 40, balancing exercises are just as important for us as cardio, strength, and flexibility training.
So what are some good training exercises to incorporate into your fitness plan?
Here are 4 simple ones that you can do at home, or in the line at the grocery store, or anywhere for that matter.
1. Raise one leg when you are standing.
2. Rise from your chair without using the arms as support
3. Stand with legs hip width apart, and place hands on your hips, raise one leg off the floor and bend it back at the knee and hold for 30 seconds, return the leg to the starting position. Alternate legs and do as many repetitions as needed to improve balance.
4. Biceps curl with a weight; stand with legs hip width apart, hold weight in one hand and with palm to ceiling, raise opposite knee and hold for 30 seconds. Switch hands and do the same. Repeat until balance improves. To increase the difficulty, raise the leg on the SAME side as the weight. To further increase the difficulty, stand on a pillow or bosun ball.
5. Begin a Tai Chi practice.
Healthy balance is an integral part of fitness over 40. I challenge you to assess it and if it is not where you want it to be, take 6-8 weeks and focus on improving it!
If you would like help discovering your BEST cardio, strength or flexibility plan, I can help. Purchase my book, the Second Chance at Health-Learn to Love Active Living.