Interesting facts about balance
Did you know that
- One of the most common reasons those over 65 visit a healthcare professional is because of problems with balance?
- Loss of balance raises your risk of falls. Falls are the leading cause of injuries for those over the age of 65 in Ireland.
- Having good balance is crucial in everyday life, as it means being able to control and maintain your body’s position comfortably—whether you are walking, climbing stairs, or just going about your day to day activities.
- With impaired balance, many of these activities can become extremely difficult, tiring and sometimes dangerous. Symptoms that can sometimes accompany feelings of being unsteady are dizziness, vertigo, hearing and vision problems.
How does balance work?
To have good balance, your muscles must work smoothly together in response to several sensory systems:
- The first sense that your balance relies on is your vision
- Your balance also relies on your proprioception. These are the sensations that constantly feedback to you from nerves in your skin, muscles, legs and joints. For example, your proprioceptive system will be able to tell you if you are on soft grass or hard cement without looking, even while wearing shoes.
- Your balance is also heavily reliant on your vestibular system, which are sensory organs in your inner ear.
Your sensory input from the above systems, along with your motor input from the eyes and muscles, allow you to maintain your balance. A problem in any one of these systems results in problems with balance. Many other things can also affect your balance, such as injury, disease, or certain medications.
What happens to balance as we get older?
As we get older, strengthening and balance exercises are crucial to maintain and improve our balance and stability. This means that if we feel unsteady, our muscles can react appropriately and prevent fall or injury. Regular strength work means that we build more muscle – stronger and larger muscles can buffer the impact of a fall, providing some protection to our bones and joints. Stronger bones. Resistance exercises also strengthen our bones, and a higher bone mineral density means we are less likely to get a fracture.
Try some of the following exercises daily to improve your balance and enhance your overall function in daily life. Please make sure you practice these exercises near a corner wall for safety and support. If you feel unsteady on your feet, we recommend you do these exercises under the supervision of a friend or family member:
- Stand on one leg: Shift your weight over one leg and lift the other foot slightly off the floor. Practice holding the position for as long as you can. 5 seconds is a good start, aim for up to 30 seconds after lots of practice.
As you do this exercise, fix your eyes on a spot or an object straight ahead of you. Try to maintain good posture throughout by keeping your chest lifted, your shoulders down and back, and your abdominal muscles braced. And breathe comfortably.
If this exercise is too hard, hold onto a chair or counter for support. If you feel this getting easier after a few days, try closing your eyes and again holding this position for 30 seconds. Repeat on each leg.
- Narrow stance with eyes closed: Stand with your feet together (easier) or one foot ahead of the other (harder) and close your eyes. Practice holding this for up to 30 seconds.
- Tandem walk: Walk in a straight line, placing one foot directly in front of the other and contacting the heel of the front foot to the toe of the rear foot. When you can master this going forward, try the same movement backward. In the beginning, you may want to hold onto a countertop as you walk.
Practising these daily exercises to enhance the function of your sensory systems, along with strength work, will help to keep you feeling strong and help prevent a fall.
Written by Fiona Breen, Chartered Physiotherapist, Heart 2 Heart Cardiac Physiotherapy, Unit 5, Kilcullen Business Campus, Kilcullen, Co. Kildare. www.h2hcardaicphysio.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, 045484000.Learn more about Heart 2 Heart Why not contact us at Heart 2 Heart