It wasn’t very many years ago that I learned how to rollerblade. I was quite proud of myself. I wasn’t a speed demon but I didn’t feel that balance was an issue either. I haven’t skated this summer and I must admit that I am a little bit afraid to try. Over this last year I have started to notice a difference in how balanced I feel. I find myself wondering if all of the statistics about falls and older people are something to be taken seriously. Have you noticed that you feel a little off balance when you step off of a curb or that you have new bruises from bumping into a door jam or a bed frame? How many near falls have you had in the last 6-8 months? It’s rather alarming isn’t it? Surely this can’t be happening to us?
We all need to be paying more attention to our balance as we grow older. Being off balance can lead to falls, and we all know where that leads. Experts say that balance peaks when you are in your 20s and by age 30 it starts to spiral in the other direction. At age 65 it can start deteriorating rather rapidly.
A sense of balance is quite complex. Medication interactions, inner ear problems, alterations in visual acuity, and sensory problems involving the feet can all contribute to this sensation of being slightly off-kilter. As always, a physical examination is recommended for anyone embarking on a new exercise/treatment program. My problem is plantar fasciitis. It is an ongoing problem and despite my efforts it doesn’t look like it is ever going to go away. I would like to do something besides relying on orthotics to make my feet feel grounded again.
Fortunately the experts say that you can preserve and restore your sense of balance with exercise. One of the recommendations is to participate in a Tai Chi or Yoga based program. I do yoga, but I only go once a week. I try to squeeze in a second session at home, but it is often on a hit or miss basis. Being off balance frightens me, and I am sensing that a few sessions here and there are not going to do the trick.
Balance work is important for anyone over 65. The good news is that you don’t need a gym membership or special equipment to work on balance training. The book “Fitness over Fifty” by the National Institute on Aging has many straight forward suggestions about the role of exercise in your life. The segment on balance is very basic and includes routines that you can do without needing special equipment or clothing. A Restorative Yoga instructor introduced me to this “anytime-anyplace” exercise and it is also highlighted in this particular book. You can start out by holding the back of a chair or a counter top and then progress to “no hands”. My goal is to do this one, as well as some foot exercises, several times a day. Try it with me and see what you think: stand straight (hold onto a table or chair if you need to, and yes you probably will because it isn’t as easy as it sounds). Next, slowly stand up on your tip toes, hold for 1 second or more if you can, and then lower your heels all the way back down. Repeat this 8-15 times, pause, and then do another set. There are several versions of this but start as simply as possible and do it as often as you can. You can also try walking heel to toe (like a tight rope walker) whenever you can and whenever no one is watching. Please write and share what you are doing to work on your balance problems.