Focus on This in Summer to Protect Your Balance

delicious fruit flavored water at the beach

Most people associate winter with increased danger for loss of balance and falls. But did you know that summer can be just as dangerous?

The hazards are different, of course. A recent French study showed that dehydration can weaken cognitive function as well as the muscles. This means that recognition of a hazard can be delayed, as well as the reaction time necessary to avoid it.

Many dehydration studies have been carried out on athletes and others under extreme conditions, studying dizziness, loss of function and loss of electrolytes, so the French study is interesting in that it looked at normal women, doing regular tasks, half of whom went 24 hours without water or other drinks, whilst the control group were kept hydrated.

The group suffering from dehydration experienced higher heart rate (though not in the clinically significant range), sleepiness, confusion and decreased alertness.

The human balance system relies on good input from the senses (the soles of the feet, the vestibular system – where the limbs are in space – inner ear, eyes) and strong communication between the brain and muscles to react to that stimuli, in order to keep the body balanced and moving around safely.

In parts of the world where summer is particularly hot, dehydation can occur surprisingly quickly. One of the side effects of aging is that it is harder to sense when you are dehydrated, which means that often older adults suffer from mild to moderate dehydration without even being aware of it.

In the real world, this can have significant consequences as in summer people often travel to new locations, where their balance is put under further pressure. See this article published in The Traveling Boomer blog for some of the other ways that travel can impact balance and fall risk.

So buy up that watermelon, or whip up your favorite mocktail if you’re bored of just plain water. Make staying hydrated fun, whether you’re going to the gym, hanging out with friends, or absorbing a new culture.

How to Bounce Back from Sickness

We can’t control everything: sometimes life throws us curve balls. The question is, can you get back up after a serious illness, even later in life?

Karen is an active and positive art teacher to adults. One day, she suffered an allergic reaction which made her very ill, culminated double pneumonia and triggered Atrial Fibrillation.

After recovering from the pneumonia, she still had the AFib to deal with. Many doctors told her that, at her age (74), she should count her blessings, rather than expect to change anything.

But Karen had been pretty active all through her life. Not run-all-the-races athletic, but she’d always enjoyed walking and dancing; things now made difficult with AFib. She began to feel depressed, unable to take walks in her local area that had previously been part of her life: seeing the changing seasons in the hedgerows: new buds, new birds, deer and rabbits, leaves falling in autumn. All of it suddenly denied to her.

senior woman doing tai chi

Unsure of exactly what to do, she decided to take up again a practise she and her husband had experimented with a few years before: Tai Chi.  Their master had left the area, but she still remembered the moves. Now Karen started to do them by herself. First thing every morning, she did a simple 15 minute sequence.

“It made me feel connected to my surroundings and ready to meet the day”

She liked the breathing, the concentration of fitting the moves together. The gentle movement from one form to another.

Karen was also a participant in a Zibrio study on balance. We measured her twice, and tracked her health changes for a year. She was blinded to her score (so it couldn’t affect her choices).

We first measured her about 12 months after the pneumonia. Then again 9 months later, after she’d taken up the Tai Chi practise again. At the time of her first testing, she scored 4/10, just above the high risk for falling. After her regular Tai Chi practise, her score rose to 8/10.

Many things affect balance, so it was interesting that the only thing Karen reported had changed in that time had been her daily commitment to the Tai Chi sequence.

The good news, as Karen, and others in our Personal Stories series discovered, is that just as balance can get worse, it can also get better at any time of life, depending on what we do. It’s the ultimate example of ‘use it or lose it‘.

We are interested in partnering with a robust trial using Tai Chi as an intervention for fall risk to be able to quantify the benefits. In the meantime, these studies demonstrate the positive effect of Tai Chi on lowering fall risk, and improving the management of a number of medical conditions.

If you want to learn more about Tai Chi in your area, the American Tai Chi Association has details, and also ask at your local community center or gym as they frequently offer classes. Bear in mind that exercises to improve balance are best done standing, not seated.

Note: This story is just one person, and the Tai Chi part wasn’t part of a controlled intervention, so we can’t draw any scientific conclusions from Karen’s experience. We share it with you as part of our personal stories series, intended to inspire people and show that balance can improve at any stage and any age. Always speak to your doctor before starting new exercise, and seek the help of a qualified professional.

How To Start an Exercise Program At Any Age

By Althea Cameron

The benefits of exercise are well documented, and studies show that it is never too late to start exercising. The Centers for Disease Control Prevention points out that older adults can benefit greatly from even moderate amounts of physical activity. One benefit is reducing the risk of debilitating conditions such as developing high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes. Here are four points that you should consider if you are thinking about starting an exercise program after a period of inactivity.

Consult your doctor

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

This step is extremely important, especially if you have been sedentary for a period of time. Your doctor will advise you on how much physical activity your body can handle and explain how you should move forward. Your doctor will also give you pointers on recovery, which will come in handy during your first few sessions.

Think of what you love doing . . . and do it

Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym. A walk around the neighborhood can be just as effective as time spent on a cardio machine if it means you stick to it regularly. Combining physical activity with a passion or hobby you have always wanted to do is a great way to start an exercise program and can also be a way of making new friends. If others rely on your joining them on a bike ride every week, you are less likely to give it up. 

If you used to be fit there is no reason why you can’t return to good form as you get older. Just as with those new to exercise, it’s important to start slow and gradually build up your strength and stamina. It can be worthwhile to hire a coach for a few sessions to help ease you back into your sport and advise you on additional routines to stay injury free.

Start a new sport

photo credit: pexels

It is never too late to start a new sport, and there are many health and social benefits that come with a new physical activity. Swimming is an excellent choice, as it is low impact, which can be better for joints.  An inspiration in this regard is Maurine Kornfield, who at 97 is the oldest active member of the 64,000-strong U.S. Masters Swimming. What’s more, she started swimming just before her 60th birthday and has since then set 16 world records for her age group. 

Also highly recommended is tennis. Melissa Neiman’s article on ‘5 Great Sports to Take Up After the Age 50’ notes that the benefits of playing tennis include “higher aerobic capacities, lower resting heart rate, and blood pressure responses, improved metabolic function, improved skeletal integrity, improved reaction time, and decreased stress reactivity.” 

Tennis, while largely high impact, is noted by Harvard Health to be a sport for life. It can be played even in your later years because it can be customized and slowed down (much like walking soccer) to suit your age and fitness level. You can, for instance, walk instead of sprint, volley rather than smash, or let a ball sail by rather than dive for it. These adjustments lower the impact in a way that even older adults can continue playing. This is the reason that former tennis pros like John McEnroe and Pete Sampras can still play, even after leaving the ATP Tour. While still having the ability to run around the court, McEnroe and Sampras have definitely had to adjust their games since. 

Recently, Sampras (47) played in an impromptu doubles exhibition at Indian Wells with Novak Djokovic as his teammate and fellow former professionals Tommy Haas (41) and John McEnroe (60) as their opponents. Sampras is one of the highest earning tennis stars of all-time due to his record-breaking Grand Slam haul, and he has continued to play exhibition matches well into his 40s. The fact that Sampras (and Haas and McEnroe for that matter) continue to play is proof that tennis isn’t just for people in their prime. There are even tennis clubs that focus on this demographic, and joining one is a great way to get involved in the sport. Not to mention, by doing this it will expand your social network, leading to opportunities to further improve your game as you develop.

Give structured exercise a chance

photo from pexels.com

You’ll need to step out from your comfort zone from time to time, especially if you don’t feel up to playing sport. Structured exercise programs such as yoga or Tai Chi can improve flexibility, enhance balance, and increase strength. A study focusing on how a ‘Structured Exercise Program Improves Mobility in All Older Adults’ underscores the importance of this type of approach, with the main takeaway being: Older adults who partake in “long-term, structured, moderate-intensity physical activity programs” have lower risks of mobility disability and frailty. It is also a good way to meet people who are also starting an exercise program.

Althea Cameron is a health and fitness writer, based in the UK. She is passionate about health, and the intersection with technology.

What to Do When You’re Not Ready to Quit Your Sport

Senior Games is speeding around the corners of the course at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds July 8, 2015 (©Jessica Gallagher 2015)

You played sport before: in school, in college, in your early career, and maybe even through the tricky years of parenting young kids, when there’s never enough time for everyone’s activities. Often other responsibilities take over, and exercise falls by the wayside for a while.

Maybe your game was softball, or basketball, tennis or golf. Maybe you ran or cycled: alone or with a group, competitively or just for the fun of participation.

The truth is that, especially if you’re a competitive athlete, it becomes harder to find your tribe as you reach middle age and beyond. Once the kids are older and you have more free time, the opportunities for you don’t seem to be there anymore.

Except, actually, they are.

photo courtesy National Senior Games Association

It is still possible to compete at a national level against your peers in many sports – from traditional track and field, to cycling, tennis, swimming, as well as golf, volleyball, and basketball, to name a few.

The National Senior Games was started over 30 years ago to provide meaningful competition for athletes all over the US who otherwise may have aged out of the mainstream competitions. Or for those wanting to start a sport later in life. Its founders are passionate about helping adults enjoy the health benefits from being active and participating in sport.

This week, nearly 14,000 athletes will convene at the Games, presented by Humana, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. All of them competed and qualified at State level last year to earn their place. From the youngest (50 year-olds) to the oldest (Julia Hawkins, at 103), they will take over the city for 10 days of competition, celebration, and cementing friendships.

Courtesy National Senior Games Association

Some athletes have been returning to the games each year since they started. For others, it’s been a way of reinventing themselves and improving their fitness as they get older.

They all speak of the great friendships they have made through sport, the travel opportunities (The Games is held every two years, each time in a new location. In 2021 it will be in Ft Lauderdale, Florida), and the excitement that comes from competing at a national level against like-minded people. They have found their tribe.

Zibrio is sponsoring the SAFE Zone in the Convention Center this year, where athletes and spectators can come and measure their balance, learn how to improve it, and enter for the chance to win a Zibrio SmartScale for their own home.

Free Balance Screenings

If you’re in Houston over the next week, come and talk to us, we’ll be out in the community. Get a free balance screening, find out how your habits impact your balance and enter to win a free personal balance consultation with Dr Katharine Forth, our human motor control expert.

Thursday April 11, 8-10am & Wednesday April 17, 9-11

Senior Services Center, 6104 Auden, West University Place, Houston, 77005

Give Your Balance Some Love

We spend most of our lives neglecting it, yet we depend on it for basic functioning. What would these simple tasks be like without balance?

  • Walking
  • Reaching into / up to a shelf or cupboard
  • Dancing
  • Getting up from a bed
  • Sitting down in a chair
  • Going up stairs
  • Playing your favorite game or sport
  • Closing your eyes for a romantic kiss

They all use multiple parts of the systems that make up our balance. So isn’t it time you gave your balance some love to keep it going strong? The nice thing about balance is that it’s not very high maintenance. It doesn’t demand outrageous commitment (unless your need outrageous balance).

For those of you who aren’t into slacklining 3,000 feet above a valley floor, helping your balance can be as simple as adding a couple of exercises to your gym routine. Or standing on one leg while brushing your teeth (obviously don’t do this if you feel it’s too difficult – see our balance training guide).

As well as training the neuromuscular system, exercises like Tai Chi, squats and lunges help with leg strength, which can be a key part of what is missing as people age. Even those who run regularly can benefit from the greater range of movement delivered by these exercises, and from working different sets of muscles.

Download Free Ebook on the Science of Balance

How Trendy is your Workout?

is your fitness on trend

The American College of Sports Medicine releases an annual survey on fitness trends each year. Want to know how trendy you are? Looking for the next cool thing to spice up your exercise commitment? Zibrio took a look at the results on your behalf.

ACSM surveys fitness professionals around the world, and look for trends, not flash-in-the-pan fads that won’t last. They’re designed to help fitness professionals and community centers decide what to invest in for their customers.

#1: Wearables

Up from #3 spot last year, wearables are once again high on everyone’s list. Whether you use them to track what you do, or remind you what to do when, they’re becoming the new standard.

#4: Older Adult Fitness

This has been in the top 10 for the last few years, rising from #9 last year as more people who’ve grown up with the fitness movement grow into the ‘over 50’ category. Baby boomers and the generations before them often have more time to exercise, value group exercise and can take advantage of the quieter times at the gym while younger generations are at work. Thanks to organizations like Silver Sneakers, YMCA, and other big gym franchises, this age group has more variety than ever to choose from: lower impact exercise classes, and balance specific workouts. There are also increasing numbers of personal trainers who are qualified to help mature exercisers with their health goals.

#10: Exercise as Medicine

This phrase is everywhere in 2019, along with its cousin, ‘food as medicine’. The medical establishment is increasingly citing the benefits of exercise, and not just for heart health or to manage weight. Many chronic pain conditions can be improved – or at least the symptoms can be managed – with the right type of exercise. There are even reports from the United Kingdom of doctors prescribing dancing to some patients!

#13: Mobile Apps

As fitness tracking moves to your wrist, apps available for your phone continue to grow in variety and scope: watch videos of how to do a particular exercise, take photos of your own workout, manually add untracked activities to your profile. Their usefulness and improved user interface pushes this trend up from #26 last year.

#16: Outcome Measurements

Possibly the most useful trend of all. If you’re spending all that time, effort and money on the classes and apps and healthy habits, you’d want to know they were working, right? Weight measurement has been around for a while. Now, especially when working with a personal trainer, you can measure a host of other outcomes that show you’re becoming a fitter, better you.

5 Simple Ways to Start The New Year Right

get in balance

Do you make resolutions at the start of a new year? Or do you think they’re just a waste of time (seeing as most people have given up by mid February)?

Or perhaps you’re completely contented with where your life is, in which case, we salute you! But for most of us, there are at least some tweaks we’d like to make, or goals we’d like to chase.

But promising to do something (or give up doing something) for a whole year can be unbelievably daunting. No wonder we fail.

Here at Zibrio, we put our heads together and brainstormed our most successful strategies for making things stick.

  1. Start Small: What can you do today towards your goal? 5 minutes of balance exercises are easy to fit in. Set an alarm to go to bed 10 minutes earlier tonight. Then repeat tomorrow. Soon, you’ll have stuck with your goal for a whole week, then two.
  2. Go Big: Think of something you really want that seems difficult. Running a half marathon, dropping a dress size before your daughter’s wedding. Imagine your feeling of triumph should you achieve it, think about it in great detail. Then break it down into weekly achievements. Get going on week one today.
  3. Be Accountable: It doesn’t matter if you’re using an app to count steps or sleep, or whether you put notches in your bedpost, but count the days you succeed in your new habit. It can be immensely motivating to look back after a month and see what you’ve managed to achieve.
  4. Reward Yourself: Yes, this can be as simple as bribing yourself with a new pair of shoes / going to the movies / having a slice of cake. Put it on a planner so that when you achieve the goal it belongs to, the reward feels justified. Set small rewards for early on, then space them out a bit to keep them feeling satisfying.
  5. Be Kind: Some days won’t go as planned. You’ll have a bad night’s sleep, or catch a cold. #life’snotperfect. Let it go. Think of one positive thing you can do that’s aligned with your goal, even if it’s not your goal. For example, if you don’t have time for that longer sleep, take 5 minutes for some mindfulness meditation to help you recharge. Then get back to the habit tomorrow.

As always, if you’re making a big change in your health behaviours, it’s a good idea talking it over with your doctor first. She or he can help point you towards resources, as well as help you make sure you’re not putting yourself at risk for injury.

Like what you see here? You can sign up here for a monthly summary of our articles on healthy living, and we’ll send you a free ebook on balance as a thank you.

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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:

Free ebook

 

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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