We all know of someone who has taken a fall. You may think it won’t happen to you but one in three adults over 65 takes a serious tumble each year. You may consider loss of balance and stability a normal part of aging – it’s not. You have the power to prevent a fall. To maintain balance throughout life takes effort on your part. When we’re young, we take our ability to balance ourselves for granted. Where you once walked uninhibited over a poorly maintained sidewalk, you may now find yourself gauging every step gingerly to prevent a fall.
As we age, our ability to maintain balance can subtly decline
Typically, individuals under 30 have good balance, but as we enter our thirties, our steps may slow down, our stride may shorten, and our vision may become less clear, impacting our coordination. Furthermore, our level of physical activity can also affect our balance, as it follows the same principle as maintaining muscle mass – if we don’t use it, we may lose it. Unfortunately, we may not notice the gradual loss of balance until we experience a serious accident resulting in minor or major injuries.
It is essential to protect and preserve balance from today itself. This is because avoiding falls can lead to a longer life. For instance, if a woman falls and breaks her hip, around 20% will become permanently disabled, and another 20% will not survive beyond a year. Shockingly, there are more deaths related to health complications from hip fractures among women than breast cancer each year.
Even if you are naturally agile, we must all work to boost balance with age. Just like keeping your strength or flexibility, balance needs to be challenged through specific techniques to ensure you are steady on your feet.
Here are strategies to do every day to help maintain your balance:
- Practice standing on one leg – You can do this at any time of the day, such as while brushing your teeth, washing dishes, or simply standing. For 30 seconds stand on one leg, then switch to the other. For an extra challenge, try doing it with your eyes closed.
- Practice tai chi – Tai chi is an ancient Chinese practice that has a low impact on the body. It can help improve balance by strengthening the ankles and enhancing their flexibility, resulting in a more stable stance. Tai chi also distributes movement more evenly among the ankle, knee, and hip joints, making walking faster and smoother. Additionally, it promotes a greater awareness of body and movement.
- Practice walking heel to toe – The same field sobriety test cops give drunk drivers can also improve balance. Take 20 steps forward, heel to toe. Then walk backward, with toe to heel, in a straight line.
- Practice doing squats – In order to avoid falling, having strong legs is crucial. Specifically, strong quadriceps muscles in the front of the legs are important for stability. Squats are an effective exercise for building these muscles. Watch this video to learn how to do a squat correctly.
- Practice the force – To get yourself up and out of a chair, it takes muscle strength and muscle force. Force is the ability to get your leg in the right place in a nanosecond in order to prevent falling. Here’s a move to try to retain muscle force – once in a while, leap out of your chair so forcefully that you need to take a few running steps after you do so. It’s sort of like pretending someone has just told you your house in on fire and you need to get out quickly. What builds power is the explosiveness of the move. Another way to practice force is doing the side-to-side and back-to-front muscle movements such as when you play tennis or basketball.
- Practice ballet or another form of dance – We all can appreciate the beauty and grace of ballet dancers so it is of no surprise they have great balance. The reason why is because dancers in general, use more muscle groups even when walking across a room than people with no training. Dance training strengthens your nervous system’s ability to coordinate muscle groups preserving balance. Sign up for a dance class today.
- Practice balancing exercises – Here are a couple of balance moves testing how well your balance is – they are harder then they seem:
- Stand with feet together, anklebones touching and arms folded across chest. Close your eyes and time yourself for 60 seconds without moving your feet. Then place one foot directly in front of the other and close your eyes, standing for up to 30 seconds on each foot.
- Stand on one foot with hands on hop and place nonsupporting foot against inside of knee of standing leg. Raise heel off floor and hold the pose for up to 25 seconds.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.