It’s a classic comedic moment – someone slips on a banana peel and is sent flying into the air.
But as you get older, slipping or losing your footing just isn’t funny any longer. In fact, falling is one of the most serious health issues affecting the elderly.
The World Health Organisations calculates that falls are the second leading cause of accidental or unintentional deaths worldwide. If that sounds sobering, it has to be said that many falls will simply cause injury and temporary incapacitation. But we do it a lot. The NHS website reckons that around 1 in 3 adults over 65 living at home will have at least one fall a year.
Falling not only means injuries and broken bones – but it can also lead to a huge loss of confidence. This in turn results in a downward plunge into inactivity- which is detrimental to both bone and muscle strength. Mental health can also be affected as people become fearful and reticent to participate in normal activities. Hip fractures can be particularly troublesome – and around 20% of women who break a hip can become permanently disabled.
So it’s a very real problem – and a lot of it comes down to balance.
Balance is one of the most overlooked elements of enjoying good health and wellbeing into old age.
People mistakenly believe that keeping fit is all about raising your heartbeat or building large muscles – but no exercise can ever happen without structural balance working together with gravity!
Maintaining good balance decreases the likelihood of falling when doing everyday activities such as reaching up to a shelf or bending to tie your shoelaces. It gives you the confidence to exercise and take part in social pursuits like walking and dancing and will help you maintain your independence.
It can also improve posture and strength which could reduce your chances of getting back or leg pain. Studies also suggest that challenging the areas of the brain responsible for balance can also improve cognitive function.
So how can you improve it? Well, there never was a more pertinent saying than the one ‘use it or lose it’.But it’s never too late to start. If you’re feeling that your balance isn’t quite as good as it once was there are things that you can try.
- Stand on one leg. Do this in front of the sink whilst brushing your teeth, or in front of a table so that you something to grab onto if necessary. Try it for ten seconds then switch to the other foot then build up into several repetitions.
- Walk heel to toe in a straight line for twenty steps.
- Stand up to get out of a chair – without using your hands. If you don’t have blood pressure issues, do it fast. Repeat this several times.
- Do squats. Start with your feet hip-distance apart, toes pointing forward. Let your body lean slightly forward and engage your abdominals as you bend your knees as though you’re sitting down (You could do this in front of a chair if you’re worried about not being able to get up again). Hold for about five seconds, and then rise back up to your start position. Repeat eight to 10 times.
- Learn Yoga. There’s plenty of instruction online. Yoga has all-round benefits, improving not only balance but also strength, flexibility and well-being.
- Try Tai Chi. This is a type of martial art that employs slow, controlled movements. For people with limited mobility, it is a gentle way to improve balance, coordination and range of motion. Again, you can find instruction online.
Luckily, the body is very good at responding quickly to exercise that is repeated and consistent. If you’re doing something at least twice a week you should soon start to see some discernible improvement. Even if you’re reading this in the full flush of youth, keep your balance in mind. The steps you take now to maintain it throughout the years could help to ensure that you have a fit and healthy later life.