Balance, a less then integral part of exercise for some. Unfortunately, the ability to maintain balance and a proper walking gait is paramount for sustaining independent living in late life. As we age several factors begin to cause decline in quality of life. Two important aspects are cognitive and balance. It is estimated that 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls, which can be mitigated by proper training. After a fall occurs the fear of falling begins to set in which further debilitates individuals. In 2012 there was 2.4 million ER visits due to falls, with 24,000 seniors perishing from the complications of falling. To illustrate the fear, 80% of fall victims never return to their physical activities and begin to let their health wane.
The fact is that we will fall at some point as we age. The question is; can we make it safer? The answer is yes in a couple different ways. First and and foremost is keeping up with a healthy lifestyle and strength training. Strength training allows us to stave off, or at least slow down the process of osteopenia, which results in osteoporosis. While strength training, we place demands on our skeletal system causing the body to adapt to the stresses. This adaptation is known as Wolff’s law from Julius Wolff (1836-1902); “Bone in a healthy person or animal will adapt to the loads under which it is placed.” Of course the opposite is true, that a lack of load or stress will allow the bone to decrease.
This does not mean that one must attend a gym and attempt to move several hundred pounds at a time. This can be accomplished by walking, use of resistance bands for various exercises, dumbbells 5-15 pounds, and simple step aerobics equipment.
After performing strength training to keep our bones healthy, we have balance; the reason why we fall. Balance has several factors involved; somatosensory, visual, vestibular systems and proprioception. Somatosensory is an amazing nerve system within our body that explain the internal and external world based on changes in pressure/touch. The visual system is our eyes. The eyes give us the feedback we need to see obstacles, and have depth perception to handle any obstacles. The vestibular system is based within our ears with a labyrinth of tubes containing fluid, this allows us to sense movement and spatial orientation. Last on our list but certainly not least is proprioception. This works directly with the vestibular system, with sensors in joints, certain muscles, and tendons to inform us of where our body is in free space.
As we age is it important to do exercises that involves as many body parts, in as many planes as we can safely do. It would also behoove the ageing individual to work on walking on unstable surfaces and single leg exercise within a controlled environment. Here are some examples of incorporating as much of the body and mind as possible; Using agility dots, and placing an object on top of them. Start at a chosen distance away, walk to the dots and preform either a deadlift, or single leg deadlift to get the object and return to the start. Difficulty can be added by choosing more than one object, side stepping, or even walking backwards. Another is an obstacle course of different sized object that must be stepped on or over, with each offering a varying degree of instability. Always done with the safety of a spotter or better yet a qualified personal trainer. Using these types of exercise can reduce the possibility of falling, and when a fall occurs can mitigate the damage to the body.