I’m not talking about your bank balance, but your physical, stay-upright-don’t-fall balance.
Think you don’t have a problem? You may be right, yet the vast majority of balance problems go unnoticed until someone actually falls and injures themselves. And whether you’re 35 or 75, recovering from a fall is whole lot harder than not falling over in the first place.
But with a little self knowledge, you can assess some of your possible weaknesses, and take action without needing to become a statistic (It’s the leading cause of trauma room visits, ahead of car crashes – and since 2012 it’s been getting worse).
- You sit down all day. The human body is brilliant at adaptation. The most common reason people’s balance declines over time is because they spend most of their time sitting down so their muscles adapt to doing that very well, and lost their youthful ease for movement. Fortunately, this change can be reversed at any time by challenging the body again: exercise that targets strength, flexibility and balance will send different signals to your brain and muscles and they will start to respond. Start slowly, and seek help. A class like Tai Chi has been shown in many studies to be particularly good for improving balance and reducing falls.
- You’ve started new medication. Or changed the dosage. Many medicines affect your balance, either over the short term while your body adjusts, or longer term because of interractions with other drugs (including over the counter medicines) you may be taking. Always take professional advice from your doctor or pharmacist. Talk to them about how all your medications make you feel and they can help make sure they’re not increasing your risk of falling.
- Your eyesight is getting worse. Our eyes play an enormously important role in keeping us balanced. Our brains compare input from other senses with the information coming in through our eyes to tell if we’re leaning, standing upright, moving, or stationary. That moment of confusion many people experience when stepping off a moving treadmill is a good example of this. As eyesight can deteriorate over time, it is worth checking in with an optometrist yearly to ensure your eyes are working at their best. Be extra careful if you use varifocal glasses while walking around though – these can increase the likelihood of a trip in certain circumstances.
- Your only exercise is a bit of walking. While walking is a good exercise for other health outcomes, unless you’re doing strenuous uphill hiking, your legs won’t be challenged enough to stay strong, and walking doesn’t challenge coordination and balance sufficiently to maintain it as you age.
- You’re depressed or anxious about falling. Both depression and anxiety can lead people to disengage from those around them, physically and emotionally. Often people avoid going out and doing things they used to enjoy because they’re worried about falling . But studies have shown that such behaviour actually increases the risk of having a fall. The best protection is to stay active and engaged in your life, in order to maintain an alert brain, and strong, flexible muscles.
September is National Fall Prevention Month, and there are events going on all around the country to help raise awareness and put people back on their feet. Falling is not a natural part of aging and there are so many ways to improve balance that everyone can find something they enjoy doing every day to keep their balance in tune.