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Poor balance can be a persistent problem for so many people, triggering many falls as the years go by. In young, healthy adults, balance is largely an automatic reflex and taken for granted. However, gradual changes linked to growing older such as weak or inflexible muscles, slower reflexes, and worsening eyesight affect the sense of balance. Certain health problems such as inner ear disorders, neuropathy, and heart rhythm disturbances may upset balance, too. So can excessive consumption of alcohol and many medications. Perhaps it’s not surprising that every year, at least one out of three people over age 65 falls down causing injury.
Unstable balance can spur a downward spiral. Often, people begin moving around less during the day, voluntarily cutting back activities. Confidence dips, muscles essential to balance grow weaker still, and unsteadiness rises in response. So does fear of falling and falls. A simple fall can cause a serious fracture of the hip, pelvis, spine, arm, hand or ankle, which can lead to hospital stays, disability, loss of independence and even death.
With practice, almost anyone can achieve better balance. Strong legs and flexible ankles help prevent falls and allow you to catch yourself if you do trip. What’s more, the full blend of recommended activities can help you build better awareness of your body and surroundings, boost your confidence, and tune up your heart and lungs to keep you healthy and independent.
The Most Common Types of Balance Problems are:
- Vertigo. A sensation that everything around you is spinning or moving, or that you yourself are spinning around.
- Lightheadedness or “near fainting” (presyncope). A feeling of weakness, or dizziness.
- Unsteadiness. A feeling of imbalance, disorientation, and occasionally a loss of your sense of time, or place.
Simple Balance Exercises – if the balancing issue is not tied to illness, medication or some other specific cause, simple exercises can help preserve and improve your balance. Some basic exercises you can do anytime include:
- One-legged stands: Stand on one foot for 30 seconds, or longer, then switch to the other foot. You can do this while brushing your teeth or waiting around somewhere. In the beginning, you might need to have a wall or chair to hold on to.
- Heel rises: While standing, rise up on your toes as far as you can. Then drop back to the starting position and repeat the process 10 to 20 times. You can make this more difficult by holding light hand weights.
- Heel-toe walk: Take 20 steps while looking straight ahead. Think of a field sobriety test.
- Sit-to-stand: Without using your hands, get up from a straight-backed chair and sit back down 10 to 20 times. This improves balance and leg strength.
It is certainly clear that without full balance, one’s confidence and quality of life can be compromised so rather than taking it for granted, it needs to be valued.