How often do most of us stop to consider balance as in the state of bodily equilibrium? Probably not enough! “Balance is a major issue as you age,” says Dennis Fitzgerald, director of otology and neurotology at Washington Hospital Center. “It’s something we take for granted, but the fact is that if you don’t have good balance, you can’t perform many activities in your daily lives, including walking in a straight line or getting up from a chair.”
So how does a healthy body, quite literally, stay grounded? Fitzgerald explains that brain, muscles and bones work together to process sensory information from three main components: vision, the inner ear and receptors all over the body, especially the feet and ankles. “The body needs to know where we are in space, to be able to then react and perform the functions we want and need to perform,” he says. Balance peaks in your 20s and then starts to slowly go downhill in your 30s, with a sharp decline in the 60s and beyond, although that can vary based on fitness, weight and other factors.
The effects of this equilibrium crisis are wide-ranging. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in three adults, 65 and older takes a spill every year, with 20 to 30% of those incidents resulting in moderate to severe injuries, including lacerations, hip fractures and head trauma. An active commitment to better balance alongside cardiovascular fitness, strength training and flexibility can go a long way toward prevention of such injuries. “There is a fair amount of research showing that exercises that address stability and balance can be quite helpful in improving quality of life as we get older,” says JR Rudzki, a Washington-based orthopedic surgeon. Luckily, there are a lot of options for enhancing your equilibrium, both in and out of the gym. Jean Gutierrez, an assistant professor of exercise science at George Washington University, says the key is to focus on core stability and
building muscle strength in the lower portion of body.
To start, she suggests yoga, Pilates and specialised equipment such as Bosu balls and balance boards. Tai chi is another good. This spring, a review article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that the ancient Chinese martial art, which combines deep breathing and gentle movements, helps improve balance.
* To simulate a balance beam, try walking on raised curbs instead of the flat sidewalk (although not too close to heavy traffic)
* Take the stairs. It strengthens the leg and other muscles that are crucial for good balance.
* While watching television, practice standing on one foot as long as you can during a commercial break. At the next break, do the same with the other foot. After mastering it, try it with your eyes closed.
* While brushing your teeth, try balancing on your tiptoe. Once you’ve mastered that, try standing on the back of your heels.