I recently participated in an Advent movement challenge on social media which included a lot of balance work. Some of the challenges seemed “unsafe” for older adults. This made me think deeper about balance and why we lose our ability to balance as we age, and that maybe our “play-it-safe” approach to balance is not creating the best benefits for our physical health.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), one in four Americans over the age of 65 falls each year. In addition, every 11 seconds an older adult is admitted to the hospital due to a fall and every 19 minutes an older adult dies from a fall. These statistics are very alarming!
What can we do to prevent falls?
When I was a Matter of Balance Program Leader, one of the main concepts that we conveyed each week to the participants of the program was more movement. If you are unfamiliar with the program, Matter of Balance, it is an 8-week evidence-based falls prevention program supported by many organizations such as the National Council on Aging. After two weeks of introductory material, the remaining six weeks contained a structured time of movement. As a lay leader, I took people through a series of movements for range of motion, greater strength, and greater mobility. Researchers found that if they could get people moving and keep people moving, there was a decline in the number of falls a person had and also the severity of those falls.
I agree with their findings 100% — movement is the number one way to help prevent falls. What that movement likes, however, can vary greatly. Whether you practice specific balance movements like walking a tightrope, holding tree pose, standing on a Bosu ball, walking across uneven surfaces; or you practice range of motion exercises of the ankles or toes, you are still working on improving your balance.
Here are some tips for those who would like to improve balance:
When using a wall or chair while balancing, work towards using “light fingertips” versus relying on your hand
If you have no problem balancing without holding onto a chair/wall, add movement (swing your arms, move your head up and down, move one leg)
If you have no problem balancing without holding onto a chair/wall, try holding an object while you balance (yoga block above your head, a water bottle in one hand, or a grocery bag in one hand)
Make the surface you are standing on unstable (put a blanket under your foot, stand on a yoga block, turn a half cylinder upside down, stand on a Bosu ball)
Try a combination of these techniques
Our bodies continually need new and different stimuli. Keep changing things up, provide your body with as many ways to move and balance as you can. If any of you create a balance beam (2×4 board) to walk on to your bathroom let me know!
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