As we age, it's important that we seek out how to improve balance. Our balance skills begin to decline over time, and, unfortunately, incidents of falls can become more common as we age. Currently, 30% of adults 65 years and older will experience a fall at least once per year. Most of these falls can lead to injuries, and some of the injuries can be severe.
However, there are things seniors can do to improve balance and reduce their risk of falling.
How Exercise & Safety Can Improve Balance
As you might expect, things like physical activity or even exercise classes designed for seniors where they have age proper structured programs and regimen can help improve muscle strength and control. Maintaining muscle strength and flexibility are, literally, the core of what help you balance.
Exercises that involve slow, controlled movements, such as yoga or a guided meditation, can also be ideal for improving coordination at any age.
Additionally, many people focus on the question "how to improve balance" in regards to their personal skill. However, they often overlook the great deal of control they have around them. Ensure your home is safe and free from potential trip hazards. Remove any loose rugs or electrical cords that could cause you to trip and fall. Keep your walkways well-lit so you can see where you're going, and use a nightlight in the bathroom if you need to get up in the middle of the night.
Factors that Increase Risk of Body Balance-Related Injuries
Falls risks are multifactorial and linked to changes in physical and sensory function.
Some changes that can contribute to increased falls include:
- Individuals' general health - General health plays an important role in your ability to maintain balance. Poor health can lead to issues with your inner ear, muscles, and joints, contributing to losing balance. Additionally, certain health conditions can make you more prone to falling and injuring yourself.
- Vision - Our eyes, inner ears, and proprioception or kinesthesia work together to keep our balance. Kinesthesia is our body's awareness of where it is in space. Vision plays the most important role in keeping us balanced. Therefore, if our vision is affected, so is our sense of balance.
- Anxiety - Anxiety is a mental health disorder that can affect a person's life. One of the less talked about but still very important ways anxiety can affect a person is by throwing off their sense of balance. Anxiety manifests itself in physical symptoms like trembling, sweating, and a racing heart for many people. These situations can make it difficult to stay calm and focused, which can lead to feeling lightheaded or dizzy. These sensations can make it hard to keep yourself physically and emotionally balanced.
- Medication - Most people don't consider how their medication affects their balance. But it's important to be aware of the potential side effects of any medications you're taking.
- Reduced muscular strength - When muscles are weak, they cannot support the body properly and maintain proper posture. Weakened muscles can lead to a loss of balance and an increased risk of falls. Reduced muscle strength can also make it difficult to perform activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and walking. Older adults need to maintain their muscle strength through regular exercise to reduce their risk of falls and maintain their independence.
- Sensory and balance problems - Sensory problems can greatly affect balance. People with sensory issues may not be able to tell where their body is in space or may not be able to feel their feet on the ground, which can make it hard for them to keep their balance. Sensory problems can also make it hard to know where you are in relation to objects around you - making it difficult to avoid obstacles or move around safely.
- Reduced physical activity - Our bodies lose muscle mass and bone density as we age. This natural process is called sarcopenia and can lead to several problems, including a greater risk of falls. Research has shown that physically active people have a lower risk of sarcopenia and falls. Being physically active helps to improve balance because it helps to maintain muscle strength and flexibility. Regular activity also improves our proprioception (kinesthesia).
How to Reduce Risks of Falls and Injuries
The good news is that with regular structured exercises, there is a 23% reduction in falls. The more we exercise, the better our strength and balance will become since there is a direct relationship between strengthening our core and improving balance. A combination of resistance training and aerobic and balance exercises can help reduce your fall risk.
Five ways that can be effective in reducing the risks of falls and also injuries to falls include:
1. Environment – at home, look around and remove any hazards.
- Adequate lighting
- Use non-slip mats
- Remove clutter for easy access.
- Install railings and grab rails as needed
- Wear appropriate, supportive, well-fitted shoes(you might need to see a podiatrist for specifically provided shoes).
2. Exercise – a fantastic way to not only help with the prevention of falls but for your general health and well-being also!
3. Eyes – make sure you have a yearly eye test to monitor visual changes.
4. Ears – hearing loss has been associated with increased fall risk. Have your hearing checked to monitor any changes.
5. Education – A great way to reduce your risk of falls is to educate yourself on steps that you can take to improve your safety. The first step includes talking to your GP or pharmacist about possible side effects of any medications you might be taking and engaging with an exercise professional.
Our team of Exercise Physiologists are available and ready to assist you. Call us on 9783 9990 to book and begin your program.