Did you know that while standing, staying upright and walking may look a simple act, at the background our body systems have to perform a complex integration to make it into a successful action! The fear of fall is the main reason cited by seniors for limited mobility and independence. Studies have proved that exercises to improve balance can reduce the rate of fall by 36% in our elderly population.
How do we manage to balance?
Balance is all about maintaining our Centre of gravity over the base of support! And to achieve this, we need 3 systems to work together:
- Sensory input from the eyes
- Sensory input from the ears i.e the vestibular apparatus
- Sensory input from the muscles and joints
The input from all these three sources are integrated in our cerebellum and the command is passed to the muscles to stay upright.
Why does balance reduce as we age?
When the sensory input from any of the three systems is affected or there is a decline in the function of the cerebellum or the muscles are weak to respond to the command from the brain, balance gets affected.
However, the most common reason is, NOT CHALLENGING THE SYSTEM ENOUGH! If poor balance is associated only with old age, then all seniors will have balance problem. However, we see many seniors taking up a sport/ dance after they age. If we don’t regularly put ourself in situations where we need to use balance, our sense of balance diminishes with disuse. As we age, there is a drastic reduction in the physical activity, which reduces the challenges that is posed on the system and over a period of time, there is a gradual decline in the balance.
Can we regain the balance?
The answer is YES, improving the upper and lower body strength along with challenging the balance system daily with activities that require the use of all the three systems will improve balance to a great extent.
Some quick tips to do balance activity at home:
- Check with the doctor, if there is a more serious balance problem like vertigo, ear infections, chronic dizziness, Meniere’s disease or drug interactions.
- Get the advice of a physiotherapist to learn the exercises and do it the right way!
- If you are very poorly balanced, ensure that a care giver is always next to you when you exercise.
- Always use a sturdy chair for support. Initially hold with two hands, and when comfortable move to single hand support and then with fingers and slowly remove your hand from the chair.
- Avoid fast movements.
- Be aware of your posture.
- As the base of support reduces the challenge also increases. Start with a wider base and slowly reduce the base of support.
- Progress the exercises, when the previous exercise becomes comfortable and you are confident of doing it without assistance.
- Begin the training with eyes open, and gradually progress with eyes closed as it is more challenging.
- If you are under any medications, ask the doctor if there are any side effects which may cause light headedness or decreased balance.
Start slowly and become used to the new experience of stressing the balance system. Our body follows a simple mantra, “Use it or lose it”. Doing balance exercises regularly, has many benefits like, reducing the risk of fall, more independence, involving in activities we love, better reaction time, increased coordination and many more.
Don’t take your balance for granted! Challenge your body and regain the balance and a much deserved independence!