Sleep Has Major Impact on Balance: New Study Shows

A team of researchers from the University of Warwick, in the UK, has  published research showing that poor quality sleep reduces a person’s ability to balance the next day.

The research was conducted on healthy adults with no history of sleep problems, and ranging in age from 24-34. They were monitored over two days in their own homes using latests sensors to measure their quality of sleep. Their balance was measured in a gait lab, and other information was gathered in the form of sleep diaries and questionnaires.

The researchers say the results are very clear:

Subjects with a day-to-day deterioration in sleep quantity and quality … exhibited significant changes in balance. Conversely, subjects with no significant alterations in sleep quantity and quality showed no significant changes in [balance measurements].

The study has some limitations as there were only 20 participants, and did not include a very wide age range, but the team hypothesize that if young, healthy adults suffer poorer balance after sleep disruption, then the effect on older adults is likely to be even greater.

When tired, the study participants showed significantly worse balance when tested with eyes closed vs eyes open, compared to those who had rested well, meaning that we rely on vision even more when fatigued, and vision is typically worse in older adults than in younger people, exacerbating the effect on stability and balance.

This research demonstrates something many people can identify with – a feeling of wobbliness after a wakeful or disturbed night. Being tired really does put you at greater risk of falling, because your ability to balance, and react to outside events, is lower when tired.

How to Sleep Better

Daily habits have an effect on our sleep, and experts recommend keeping a sleep diary for a couple of weeks to help work out where improvements can be made.

Improvement advice falls into 3 areas:

  • What you put into your body
  • Your sleep environment
  • Your mental state

It’s best to avoid heavy meals, alcohol or caffeine before bed, and also to reduce any liquid consumption in the evening, to avoid late night bathroom visits.

Keep work and other electronic devices away from your bedroom, make it a peaceful, cool environment that you use only for sleeping and intimacy.

Set an alarm to help you get 7 hours of sleep, and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Make sleep a priority, but don’t get anxious about it. If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get up and read a book. Allow yourself to simply rest. Practise mindfulness or meditative breathing.

Making sure that you get some exercise every day is another way of improving your quality of sleep.

Click here to read the original research, published in Nature

 

Holiday Balance Tips

have your cake and eat it

The holidays should be a time for celebration with family and friends, but often, in the endless round of preparation, shopping and parties, one of the first things to be sacrificed are the habits that keep us healthy.

But you don’t have to sacrifice your balance – or your health, if you keep in mind some simple tricks:

  1. Small actions help. Give yourself 5-10 minutes in the morning to do some light exercise: yoga stretches, Tai Chi sequences, anything that fires the connection between brain and muscles. If you don’t have time in the morning, fit it in later in the day.
  2. Use the dead time. When brushing your teeth, or waiting in line at the store, practise standing on one leg, the other raised just off the floor. Make sure there is something sturdy nearby to keep you safe should you need it.
  3. Keep moving. You don’t even need your workout clothes. Take every opportunity to get up and move around, or choose to stand instead of sit, and walk instead of drive wherever possible.
  4. Drink water. Dehydration adds to fatigue, which is bad for balance. We don’t feel as thirsty in the colder weather, so make a point of drinking water often. Added bonus: nutritionists recommend starting every party with a glass of water to cut down on the empty calories.
  5. Protect your sleep. Set an alarm if necessary, and get to bed in time to get a full night’s rest. But don’t beat yourself up if you can’t avoid some late nights. Enjoy them! and try to give yourself some extra rest the following day. Even a 5-10 minute period of meditation or mindfulness can help soothe a tired nervous system and combat holiday stress.

For further information on the many influences on your balance and how to help them, check out our:

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Wishing you a better balanced holiday season this year.

Signs Your Balance Needs Attention

what you give up without balance

At a health fair recently, we asked people to complete the following sentence:

If I had good balance, I’d be able to …

Stop there a moment. What would you like to do, or learn to do, if you were confident in your balance?

Some answers were not so surprising. Travel came up a lot. Some people talked about fears of walking outside on wet, leafy or icy sidewalks. Others wanted to visit friends at the other end of the country or go hiking in a National Park.

A woman in her 70’s told a story of visiting family who were extending their house, adding a floor. She happily walked up the rough steps to take a look and only noticed the lack of handrail (or anything sturdy) when she turned to come back down again.

“Until you push yourself into doing something different, you don’t know you have a problem”

A man in his late 60’s was more concerned with everyday inconveniences:

“Be able to put on my pants standing up”

Which got us thinking. When we’re comfortable in our routines, we don’t push the limits. It’s easy to put it off till tomorrow (and the day after). Until walking unsupported down stairs feels dangerous, and then even simpler, everyday things like dressing, have to be modified.

It doesn’t have to be that way though. There are some simple balance specific exercises to help with overall balance – click here to read them. And when it comes to quad strength (the muscles at the front of the thigh), the Center for Disease Control recommends the following exercise, which has a positive effect on balance:

Chair Sit to Stand

  1. Start sitting on a dining room chair (or similar firm chair)
  2. Place your feet flat on the floor
  3. Stand without using your arms to push up
  4. If you need to use your arms, try to use them as little as possible, and work towards not using them at all
  5. Take a moment to breathe and steady yourself while standing
  6. Sit back down slowly (don’t flop into the chair, control your movement)
  7. Repeat 10-15 times
  8. If you can’t do 10 to start with, do as many as you can and then rest. Try to do one more the next day

If you suffer from dizziness or light headedness when standing, this is not a recommended exercise. As with all exercise, you should speak with your doctor first before exerting yourself, and use common sense about what is safe for you to accomplish.

Think about your routine. What do you not do anymore that you’d like to? What steps can you put in place to make it possible again? It’s interesting how often better balance can be the key to the problem.

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Why Fall Prevention?

Fall Prevention

What’s the big deal about falling? Everyone falls from time to time, right? But how many people do you know who’ve fallen, had to move into care, and even died as a result? Every 13 seconds an adult over 65 is admitted to the ER after injuring themselves in a fall.

The costs of a bad fall are not just in medical expenses. It’s the loss of independence, which often leads to isolation and depression, that worries many older adults. As a result, some become cautious and give up doing what they love, hoping to stay safe.

Unfortunately, this has the opposite effect.

The single most important way of preventing a fall is to keep active.

A key difference between a stumble and full-on fall is how fast your brain and muscles can react to catch you. That only comes with continued use, and even, with specialised balance training.

Those who take up an exercise class and stick with it report a host of additional benefits: making friends, feeling more energetic and interested in life, happiness at still being able to line dance, or travel at age 89 and beyond.

There are many resources out there to help manage all kinds of balance problems. Your doctor and pharmacist are a good place to start to check your medications. Physical therapy and Tai Chi are especially well documented for improving balance.

We’re living longer, let’s make sure we enjoy those extra years.

Tell me more about balance

 

There is more information from the Center for Disease Control on the cost of falls, and some sensible steps everyone can take to avoid them.

September 22 is  Falls Prevention Awareness Day, the 10th anniversary of the initiative set up by the National Council on Aging. #FPAD18

Title image courtesy of National Senior Games Association

How To Protect Your Vacation And Come Home Injury-Free

protect balance on vacation

The danger that no-one is talking about.

The internet is full of helpful articles warning people of the higher risk of car accidents in the summer months, or of how to protect ourselves from food poisioning while on vacation. A few sites even tackle the dangers in taking up an adventure sport like windsurfing – or even jet skiing – without proper preparation or training.

But there is something fundemental to everything we do – whether on vacation or not – that no-one is talking about. It’s so important yet for most of our lives we go about doing it unconsciously.

But it can still ruin the entire holiday if we neglect it.

The ability to balance, and the risk of falling, are not just issues for the very young or very old.

Aside from frailty, two of the biggest impacts on our balance are from fatigue and lack of attention. When we travel, we have to deal with fatigue: from jet lag to sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings, being too hot or too cold, staying out later, becoming dehydrated, or simply becoming tired by all the sights and sounds of the new location.

When we’re out of our habitual surroundings, there is a lot more for our brains to notice, process and understand. And it doesn’t have to be as difficult as making yourself understood in a foreign language. Navigating an unfamiliar city in your home country also requires more effort from your brain.

All of that is tiring. And when we are tired, not only are our reaction times (to the uneven pavement, for example) slower, but the vigor of our response is also lower, making it more likely that a stumble will result in a fall all the way to the ground.

At home, in familiar surroundings, we can pay more attention to where we walk, how fast we turn around, and thereby mitigate the risk of a fall on days when we feel weak or tired. But on vacation, the chances are that, even while tired, we need to use our attention to help us find our way in the new location, to understand that different accent, to absorb the new sights and sounds. We don’t want to miss out. And so we are doubly vulnerable.

Help protect your vacation and come home injury free:

  • Plan for time to catch up on sleep while away
  • If you’re crossing time zones, remember it takes about a day to normalize for every hour of time zone
  • Give your fitness a boost by exercising before you go away, and plan to keep doing something while away – walking, using the hotel gym
  • If you take medications, try not to start a new one just before going away. And make sure you take them in your hand luggage as changing the dose either up or down can impact your balance (not to mention your health!)

Why You Shouldn’t Wish For a Balance Pill

sharon-mccutcheon-530237-unsplash

Are you frustrated that there’s no pill for balance?

Wishing you could just drink the elixir of balance and go back to what you were doing? But stop and think about it for a minute, it’s actually much better this way.

If you could pop a pill to cure your balance, you’d become dependent on that pill. And anxious if it begins to run out, or becomes more expensive. But if you get hold of the tools to improve your balance, you not only “cure” your wobbliness, you give yourself true Independence too.

Tools? You say. There’s a tool for balance?

One of those stability balls I see in my gym? Well, yes, that’s one of them. But once you use the tool, how do you know it’s making a difference? Unless you’re constantly falling over, it’s hard to know when your balance is bad. And how to judge if it’s getting slightly better or slightly worse?

You could book yourself in for a comprehensive balance assessment with a physical therapist. If you’re able to, you could time yourself standing on one leg (we don’t recommend this unless you’re very confident you can do it safely). Both of these would give you one data point, for how you’re balancing today (physical therapy would also give you a personal plan for improvement). Balance fluctuates, like blood pressure does, like your weight does, and the greatest value lies in tracking it regularly. Then you’ll know when you’re making good use of the tools available, when you’re making progress.

Knowing where you are on the journey makes it more fun, and motivates you to keep going. So stop wishing for a magic pill and grab your independence for yourself.

Grab my independence!  keep me inspired, and let me be the first to know when the Zibrio tracking scale is available

Can Indulgence Motivate You?

The Harvard Business Review made a case recently for regarding exercise as part of the day job. Their theory is that because exercise delivers benefits like enhanced creativity, better focus, better mood and enhanced interpersonal relations, it should be a required part of everyone’s workday. Exercise helps us achieve balance in our lives, and could also help reduce falls and accidents at work.

Whilst I certainly wouldn’t want to dissuade an employer from building a gym or sports facility on site, there is a significant downside for regarding exercise (or any health-promoting behaviour) as ‘work’.

When it becomes something we have to do, a large part of the enjoyment gets sucked out of the activity. When it’s work, that requirement brings a bucket load of guilt on days when life throws too many challenges at us to fit in a workout. Or we simply get an attack of lazyitus. Which then further demotivates us on the following days, making balance even harder to achieve.

Why does everything in Western culture have to be pleasure-free to be good for us? It’s no wonder people don’t sign up for balance classes or fall prevention: even thinking about it such a downer!

Why can’t the things which are good for us be fun too?

What if we reframed our understanding of exercise, good nutrition, and sleep and called them all indulgence: precious time for ourselves, away from phones and demands from those who need us? Whether it’s the feel of water on skin in the pool, the smell of trees and earth by the running trail, or the delicious flexibility after a good workout, we can absorb the simple pleasures of these experiences as a time of nurture for ourselves. Can we make exercise itself the treat, never mind the (longer term) benefits that go with it?

The human body wants to be exercised and oxygenated, to keep its muscles moving and the joints supple. Recent research shows that the benefits of exercise are greater when one’s mental approach to it is positive and engaged. In one study, those who regarded an activity as exercise (work) were more likely to eat hedonistic food as a reward afterwards (thereby overeating), compared to those who regarded the exercise as fun. When the activity itself is the reward, there is no need for additional compensation in the form of food, which makes sticking to those health goals so much easier.

In this sense, staying balanced is about more than fall prevention.

When we take the time for the gym it isn’t just another chore we have to check off a list, but time we’re investing in ourselves. Because we deserve this indulgence: we deserve to let the mind run free. If some people want that investment to be in mastering a particular skill, like Tai Chi or other balance–boosting exercise, good for them. We can also just satisfy the inner novelty junkie by trying new sport or exercise every week, which has the added benefit of challenging the brain and muscles, helping them grow.

It’s time we celebrated the fun in good health, rather than using it as a stick with which to beat ourselves up.

Think You Don’t Lie To Your Doctor?

When was the last time you had a really truthful conversation with your doctor? Yes, all the glasses of alcohol, the frequency you really eat healthy foods like vegetables, the number of times you’ve tripped or stumbled.

A smattering of surveys over the last ten years or so reveal a consistent picture: over a quarter of patients say they sometimes lie or omit telling the truth to their doctor.

Sometimes the reasons are because the patient feels embarrassed or doesn’t want to be judged for poor health choices. Sometimes people feel rushed, forget or think that the problem isn’t something that the doctor can help with.

Falling is a case in point. People fall at every age: trip over the cat, a crack in the curb while out running, but falls increase alarmingly over 65, with the chance of injury high on the list.

95% of hip fractures are caused by falling

A stumble can be a warning that should be heeded and yet when asked at their annual check up about falls (Medicare requires doctors to ask all patients over 65 about falls and fall risk), many fail to mention one.

Sometimes that’s because it resulted in no great pain or injury and has been forgotten about. Sometimes because it can feel like such an ‘old’ or frail thing to have done and people are afraid of being labelled, or losing their independence. But we should be making note of falls and stumbles so that when the doctor asks, we can answer honestly.

20% of falls end in serious injury or brain trauma

Falling isn’t about being old, but it is sometimes a warning that a bigger fall could be on the way.

Typical interventions can include physical therapy to strengthen muscle weakness or improve flexibility, referral for an eye exam or a number of other actions that won’t leave the patient labelled as old. A fall doesn’t mean you have to use a walking aid, but keeping quiet about it might.

Take the chance to also discuss over the counter medicines and supplements you might be taking and ask your doctor to review your medications. Be an empowered patient and help your doctor keep you healthy and independent. And maybe tie a bell to the cat.

5 Reasons Walking to Work Will Make Your Day 10x Better

April 7th is Walk to Work Day. So, gather a few co-workers or go solo and use today as motivation to integrate more physical activity into your daily life. Regular walking strengthens bones, increases muscle strength, sense of balance and decreases one’s likelihood of falling. Interested? Keep reading.

Why Should You Participate in Walk to Work Day?

  • Walking is one of the best ways to stay healthy and keep your body in shape. Regular brisk walking can help you maintain a healthy weight and prevent or manage various conditions.
  • Strengthens bones and helps to prevent osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Walking is a weight bearing exercise which can increase bone density.
  • Improves mood and relieves stress. 20 minutes of modest exercise has been found to be enough to provide your body with increased energy for as much as 12 hours.
  • Allows you to reconnect with the environment. Life can be hectic, so a morning walk allows you to slow down and enjoy the beauty of your surroundings.
  • It’s easy to get started. All you need is a pair of shoes and you’re set.

How to Prepare to for Walk to Work Day?

  • Set your alarm early. You will probably need extra time to get to work.
  • Pack a breakfast to eat on the go. Pick something easy to pack and carry. This may be the perfect opportunity to try out that new parfait recipe you’ve been craving.
  • Plan your route to work. Choose a route which is safe and pedestrian friendly.
  • Grab a second pair of comfortable shoes. Work shoes typically aren’t the most comfortable, make sure your walk is enjoyable.

Unable to Participate in Walk to Work Day? Try these 3 alternatives.

  1. Walk to Lunch. Use your break to walk to a lunch spot farther from your office than normal, this will help you incorporate extra steps into your day.
  2. Use the stairs. It’s tempting to just jump on the elevator, but try and use the stairs more often. Steps are a great way to integrate extra cardio into your daily routine.
  3. Park far from your office entrance. Choose a parking spot far from your office entrance. This will help increase your steps and give you additional time to clear your head before starting your day.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Diabetes & Fall Risk

glucose

If you’re one of the 422 million people who live with diabetes, you already know how much damage unused glucose in your blood can do to cell membranes, nerves and organs.

What you may not know is how diabetes can affect your balance and put you at a higher risk of falling.

Muscle Weakness:

In a study published in Diabetes Care in the UK, MRI scans revealed pockets of fat hiding inside  muscle tissue, making them able to exert less force than the outward muscle size would suggest. The effects can be seen in balance tests and gait analysis, where the muscles of the legs and hips are stiffer and weaker, making negotiating stairs and other obstacles more difficult.

This can become a negative spiral, as greater effort needed to move around makes people do less, resulting in further muscle weakening, and an even higher fall risk. Finding an activity you can safely enjoy, and ensuring it contains exercises to strengthen muscles, is one way to combat this problem.

Nerve Damage:

Neuropathy effects around 70% of diabetic patients, causing numbness, tingling and pain, especially in the extremities of the hands and feet. This lack of sensory feedback is a significant reason why patients struggle to be active, and can make tripping over objects like stairs or curbs more likely. Paying attention, and gait training, can help lower some of the risks.

Hypoglycemia:

For patients who are learning to manage insulin doses, or who don’t eat at regular intervals, low blood sugar also poses a problem, resulting in weakness, dizziness, and trouble with vision. Have a plan for what to do if this effects you, speak to your doctor about the best way to manage these fluctuations.

Eyesight:

In addition to the risk of damage to the optic nerve, it’s important to see an optometrist regularly as diabetes puts you at a higher risk of glaucoma and cataracts. We rely on sight for a huge amount of sensory information and when it deteriorates, typically our balance does too. Managing any eye conditions with corrective lenses where appropriate is a vital part of keeping on your feet.

Drug Interractions:

Many people with diabetes also have to contend with other medical issues, from cholesterol to high blood pressure. A simple rule of thumb is that the more medications you take, the higher your risk of falling. Increasing information is available to help you and your doctor work out which combinations can minimize the risk.

 

 

The information contained on this site is general in nature and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. None of the statements on this site are a recommendation as to how to treat any particular disease or health-related condition. If you suspect you have a disease or health-related condition of any kind, you should contact your health care professional immediately. Please consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, exercise, supplementation or medication program.