Why You Shouldn’t Wish For a Balance Pill

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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.

5 Easy Balance Hacks You Can Do in Secret

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How good is your balance today? It’s hard to measure without professional help, but you can still take action. Here are 5 simple balance exercises you can do without the need to put on your active wear or make a fuss.

As with any exercise, don’t attempt if you don’t feel confident, and check with your doctor first if you have any doubts.

  1. Brush your teeth. It takes 2 minutes, and you’re standing in front of a counter or sink that you can use for support. Use this wasted time to practise standing on one leg. Hold onto the counter and raise one leg off the floor. Hold for up to one minute. If you have to put your foot down to feel secure, that’s ok, just rebalance and then raise it again until the minute is up. Then repeat with the other leg.
  2. In the grocery check out line: stop checking Facebook on your phone, stand close to the shopping cart, using the handle for support if necessary. You can do the one legged balance again, or this time rise up onto your toes slowly and then lower back down again. No one else will notice (unless they’ve read this blog too).
  3. Waiting to meet someone? Don’t take that comfy chair, choose to stand instead. Put your feet hip width apart and stand tall, distributing your weight evenly on both feet. How still can you stand before you need to move?
  4. Waiting for coffee to brew? Or water to boil? Or the microwave? Try a tandem stance. You may want to hold onto the counter to start with. Put the heel of one foot directly in front of the toes of the other (as if you’re walking on an narrow beam). Look straight ahead and hold for one minute. Repeat with the other foot in front.
  5. Watching TV? In the commercial break, stand up and sit back down again 10 times. If you’re bingewatching on Netflix, you can do this at the start or end of each episode.

What do you think? Have you tried these or other balance exercises? Which ones are hard for you, which ones do you like? And can you feel a difference in your balance afterwards?

Resilience: The Enduring Philosophy of Thriving Older Adults

As the US population continues to grow, so does the aging population. The number of Americans aged 65 and older is projected to double from 46 million to more than 98 million by 20601. Staying healthy, active and productive are admirable goals for our nation’s older adults. However, society’s traditional view of “old age” has not always kept up with the reality of being old in America. Many older adults and others in society buy into the old myths of fragility, feebleness, forgetfulness, and senility2. Therefore, many are treated by healthcare providers as such and may and/or have been pigeonholed to those stereotypes. Physical therapists are in one of the best roles to dramatically change this practice and improve the aging populations health status and function. The goal in this article is to help the physical therapist incorporate the concept of resilience into the rehab process.

Resilience: The Game Changer

Resilience is described as the ability to achieve, retain, or regain a level of physical or emotional health after illness or loss3. There are multiple interventions as listed below that physical therapists can perform in clinic to help their older adult clients learn resiliency skills. Additionally, older adults can achieve greater outcomes in physical therapy as a result of learning these skills. This provides another avenue in which a physical therapist can be more effective.

Physical therapists can provide a quick written guide (pamphlet in their waiting room or as a parting gift provided at their first appointment) to their older adult population on local community and/or outreach groups that are specific to certain conditions or just for general social interaction. There a multitude of different national organizations in the government and NGO’s involved in improving the nation’s older adults.
For example: National Coalition on Aging created an Aging Mastery Program with reading materials and access to classes that are led by expert speakers who help participants gain the skills and tools they need to manage their health, remain economically secure, and contribute actively in society.

Education is key with the older population.

It is necessary to take time (even a whole PT session) to go over concept points on resilience and use client centered language that makes the client feel heard. Furthermore, it might be helpful to ask the client to bring in important family members that either help in their care or are essential to their social identity.
Physical therapy clinics can and sometimes do provide info-seminars. These seminars can bring together older adults with similar and/or different conditions in order to promote camaraderie and dissemination of knowledge.
Open floor clinics are sometimes a great setting for older adults to come in and use their session as a way to socialize with others with similar changes to their lifestyle. Many times this gives that older adult a glimpse into the future success they will incur with continuing their PT program.

It is not a form of defeat for a physical therapist to refer individuals who display symptoms of severe depression and or other mental health disorders to an appropriate mental health professional

Physical therapists who are owners of a brick and mortar clinic can provide fun and interesting group classes that target at risk older adults (dance, yoga, stretching, etc). Making it more of a recreational activity can boost self esteem and create a meaningful experience.

During the session focused activities to enhance happiness, with the conclusion that doing so can improve resilience. This can be done by creating positive goals (written in clinic or in a daily journal) related to previous activities that have made the client optimistic about the future or happy in the present.

Other effective interventions may emphasize the strengths of older adults, including the ability to establish and maintain social connections, willingness to help others, and desire to engage in the community. For example having a retired family law practitioner who just underwent a knee replacement to help get back to standing for hours on end in order to provide pro bono work for at risk youth3.

In conclusion:

Clinicians must educate older adults about topic of resilience and the importance of physical activity in any form. It empowers older adults to play a more informed, active role in their own health. Clinicians can correct misconceptions that illness and disabilities are caused by activity or necessitate inactivity.

References:

http://www.apa.org/pi/aging/resources/guides/older.aspx
http://transgenerational.org/aging/myths-of-aging.htm
MacLeod S et al. (2016). The impact of resilience among older adults. Geriatric Nursing, 37, 4, 266-72.

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.

3 Real Reasons Why You’re Failing at Fitness

Why don’t we do the things that we know are good for us? Or only occasionally?

Think back over the last month, how many times have you had a conversation with someone (or thought to yourself) about making a healthier choice – doing more exercise, eating more vegetables, less fried or sugary foods? Did your behaviour change? Has your friend’s? If so, how long has the change lasted?

If you’ve made a healthier change that’s lasted for longer than six months, congratulations! you’re in the small minority of people who manage it. If not, perhaps you’re feeling guilty, or annoyed, or trying your best not to think about it.

Why do we keep failing at healthy resolutions?

  1. Changing a habit is hard, especially when it involves giving up something we like or enjoy. Often, we do the unhealthy thing without consciously deciding to (those days when you find yourself staring into the fridge, or heading straight for the couch automatically).
  2. We discount the future risk. Yes, we know it’s supposed to be better for us to exercise / lose a bit of weight / drink more water / stop smoking. We know statistical studies show that we’ll live longer / reduce the risk of dementia / of falling / of developing diabetes or heart disease. But it’s in the future, and it’s only a statistic, not a guarantee. And that piece of cake is sitting in front of us, right now. One more piece won’t hurt. We can begin /go back to that lifestyle change tomorrow, right?
  3. It’s difficult to know if these healthy choices are really making a difference. After all, it takes a decade or more to find out if it’s really made an impact on our longevity. How could you measure it today?

Ultimately, we don’t want to spend days thinking about and measuring our health. We want a quick and easy way to tell so that we get on with our lives and interests, whatever they are. A scale tells us if we’ve lost or gained weight. A blood pressure monitor tells us if we’re still in the healthy zone. Wouldn’t it be great to have one gadget that gave a composite score of overall wellness?

Such things are on the horizon, but what can we do in the meantime, if we want to make a change?

  1. Don’t get overwhelmed. Try changing one thing. Commit to going to bed a little earlier, to improve sleep.
  2. Frame the change in a positive way: learning a new exercise or eating vegetables is easier to stick to than giving something up.
  3. Make it specific. One extra serving of vegetables each day, 30 minutes earlier in bed.
  4. Start today, right now. Then by tomorrow, you’ll have already begun your new behaviour.
  5. Tomorrow, commit to doing it again. One day at a time.
  6. Find an intrinsic benefit to the change: the taste of a new food, the way a walk outside wakes you up and makes joints less stiff the rest of the day. By enjoying the healthy choice for its own sake, we can build habits based on the immediate benefits, and still reap the long term improvements.
  7. Find inspiration from others who have changed, often late in life. There’s always time to change and make a better tomorrow.

5 Ways You’re Hurting Your Balance and How to Fix It

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 (every 20 seconds someone over 65 has to visit the ER because they’ve injured themselves in a fall).

  1. You sit down all day. The human body is brilliant at adaptation. The most common reason people in retirement fall over is because they’ve spent the last 40 years sitting down and their muscles have adapted to doing that very well, and lost their earlier ease for movement. Fortunately, this change can be reversed 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, which also incorporates breathing exercises, has been shown to be particularly good for improving  balance.
  2. 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.
  3. Your eyesight is poor. Our eyes play an enormously important role in keeping us balanced, and not only by warning us of holes we may drop into or obstacles we may trip over. 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.
  4. You suffer from hearing loss. This can be a problem on two levels. One, you may not become aware of a hazard until too late, resulting in sudden movement and possible loss of balance. Secondly, with loss of hearing, many people withdraw from their surroundings, tuning out some of the other senses as well. This can make you additionally vulnerable. Sometimes being aware of this tendency can be enough to make a conscious effort to stay alert. In other cases, it can be worth seeing a doctor about hearing aides.
  5. 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. But you might have to do something about it to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

Is Healthy Living Too Risky?

Exercise aerobically, and you could bring on a heart attack. 

But don’t do it at all, and you risk heart disease.

Doing advanced exercises to improve your balance can put you at risk of falling, yet without them, you risk falling because your muscles are weak and respond too slowly.
Then there are all the environmental dangers: exercising outside is good for getting fresh air into lungs and absorbing Vitamin D from the sun. But sometimes that air is polluted, rather than fresh, and excessive exposure to sunlight can lead to skin cancer. And that’s before we get started on the dangers of automobile traffic for cyclists and runners.

And what about the sport specific injuries? Shin Splints for runners, Golfer’s Elbow, Tennis Elbow, Swimmer’s Ear, Plantar Faciitus. 

Wouldn’t it be safer to just stay at home and not stress the system? 

Most of us can point to relatives who drank or smoked and didn’t have gym memberships, and yet they worked out okay, some of them living into their nineties.

But modern life is not kind to the human body. By the time we retire, most of us have spent the better part of forty years seated: at desks, in cars or public transport, on sofas. We’re sitting ducks for age-related diseases.

It doesn’t have to stay that way. 

In order benefit from exercise, your body needs to leave its comfort zone. To improve your balance, you need to challenge the muscles that make you stable. But how can you do that if you’re worried about falling? 

One option might be to have a friend stand close, not touching you, but ready to help you before you fall. Or practise a one-legged stand initially holding onto the back of a sturdy chair. As your muscles get stronger, you can lift your hand off for a few seconds, then build to where you can do the exercise for a full minute without holding on at all.

Take anyone who has succeeded at anything, and ask yourself if it happened overnight. If you aspire to running the New York Marathon, there is some basic preparation and quite a bit of training that takes place if you hope to cross the finish line uninjured. 

And so it is with any level of activity. If you decide to start on something, make a plan. Think of the risks and come up with a safety net to minimise them. 

Don’t give up, there is help available. Exercise is possible at any age, and you can stack the odds in your favor. 

To get started, the National Institute for Health has some useful exercises that can help.

Does exercise work?

Every day we read articles extolling the benefits of exercise, how even a little a day can make the difference between battling a host of problems, and living into healthy old age. But how do you know if it’s working? If you’re not doing exercise for weight loss, or for specific sport training, how do you measure whether it’s actually doing you any good?

I have to be honest and say that I get stuck in a rut with my exercise. For months, I simply go through the motions, following the instructor, or repeating the same old routine on my own. I can’t be sure that I feel much stronger. So is it actually doing me any good?

It turns out that doing a balance test would tell me. The reason is that many things affect your balance, and one of the simplest to improve is muscle strength and flexibility – especially for your core muscles and muscles in your legs and ankles. For elderly people, consider whether you shuffle, rather than lifting your feet properly when you walk. If you do, it may be a sign that you could benefit from strength exercises. But even if you walk normally, take walks as a form of exercise, you could be compensating for a weakness in one muscle area or another.

Perhaps your ankles are not particularly flexible, the thought of standing on one leg makes you break out in a sweat. As humans, our bodies adapt to the strains we put on them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are strong.

In order to improve muscle strength, the exercises you do should challenge you. Panting and sweating is normal when your muscles are working hard at any age, and using different muscle groups to the ones we use every day makes a big difference in overall fitness too. Believe it or not, it is still possible to improve your strength, no matter how old you are. Speaking to a fitness instructor can help you pinpoint which exercises are safe for you and will help you the most to boost your balance and put a spring back in your step.

For further information, you may find the exercises published by the National Institute for Health useful: nihseniorhealth.gov

3 Ways Tai Chi Improves Balance

The idea that balance naturally degrades with age is a common misconception. While balance can worsen over time due to inactivity or other factors, there are many ways to maintain and improve balance throughout one’s life.

Tai chi is one practice that has been shown to help improve balance; in a study published in the Journal of Gerontology, researchers found that a three-times per week, 6-month tai chi program was effective in decreasing the number of falls, risk for falling and fear of falling while improving functional balance and physical performance in physically inactive people aged 70 years or older.

Here are three ways how tai chi can help you regain confidence on your feet:

Increase physical strength: Through slow, deliberate motions, tai chi targets flexibility and leg strength. These are key features of balance that also help improve posture, which enhances balance skills. The zero-impact nature of tai chi allows for the strengthening of muscles without intense impact.

Reduce fear of falling: Practicing tai chi can help improve spatial positioning and recognition while also making you more stable on your feet. These work in tandem to increase one’s stability confidence, and reducing a fear of falling has been proven to contribute to a reduced rate of falling.

Improved coordination: Gait problems can be addressed through tai chi movements that focus on appropriate weight transfer and proper movement of lower limbs—for example, lifting lower limbs from the knee rather than the foot. Smooth and coordinated body movements help to improve body awareness, range of motion and reflexes, all of which contribute to increased stabilization and better balance.

These three benefits of tai chi on balance health are just the beginning. To find a tai chi class in your city, try searching your city on the Supreme Chi Living website.