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.

3 Simple Ways to Improve Balance

With the change of seasons, we often change our activities, and that’s when we can become aware that we don’t feel as steady or as strong as we’d like.

Maybe you’re getting back to the tennis court after the winter, or exercising outside rather than in the gym. Or maybe you’re just in need of a change. But is your balance good enough, or does it also need some attention?

If you haven’t been challenging it recently, the chances are your balance isn’t as strong as it was. The good news is that by adding balance exercises today, your body will soon respond, and your balance will improve. As with any exercise program, take advice from a professional fitness instructor or physical therapist and start easy. Don’t put yourself at risk of injury.

  • Stand up: In order to challenge your balance, you need to be using it. While many exercises that include sitting or lying can deliver health benefits, they won’t help your balance specifically. Make sure you include movements where you are standing or moving on your feet.
  • Use your legs: The muscles at the front and back of the legs, and the butt, are the most important muscles when it comes to your balance. And most of us don’t challenge them enough. Squats and lunges are important to do properly in order to protect your knees and back. If you’re not sure, get advice from someone who can watch your form and make sure you’re doing them correctly. You can also do this sit-stand exercise from the CDC.
  • Do it every day: You don’t have to throw heavy weights around, but incorporating a few balance exercises into your daily life will help it improve faster. If you can stand on one leg, try doing it while brushing your teeth, for example. Once a balance exercise become easy, it’s time to think about increasing the level of challenge, there are a number of tools available to help you do this.

Like what you read here? You can sign up to our newsletter for more tips and information, as well as special offers on Zibrio SmartScales and other balance products.

Shhhh. Big News Coming Soon

You’re going to love this. We’ve talked and researched and planned and tested. Then refined and tested and modified and improved. We’re so excited to share with you the next stage, the one that will matter most to you.

And the wait is nearly over!

zibrio at sxsw

Come and see us at SXSW in Austin, Tx this weekend. We’d love to meet you, have you test out our balance scale. Follow us on Facebook to find out where we are and what we’re up to.

Want to be the first to discover balance freebies, plus a limited time offer to grab a Zibrio SmartScale at a discount? Add your email below and we’ll make sure you get ahead of the crowd.


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.

You can also like us over on Facebook and Instagram to stay in the conversation.

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:

Free ebook

 

Wishing you a better balanced holiday season this year.

New Guidelines for Health

keep moving

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has updated the physical activity guidelines for all Americans.

Main takeaways include:

  • Adults of all ages should move more and sit less
  • Any moderate to vigorous activity counts (and there are some ideas and planners available – see below)
  • Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous exercise
  • All adults should do some kind of strength training at least 2 days per week
  • Any amount of exercise has immediate benefits, including less anxiety, lower blood pressure, better sleep and better insulin response
  • New research shows even more long term benefits for those who exercise, including reducing the risk of 8 types of cancer (bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, stomach, and lung).
  • Exercise also reduces the risk of dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), all-cause mortality, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and depression; and improves bone health, physical function, and quality of life.
  • For older adults, physical activity also lowers the risk of falls and injuries from falls.
  • New research also highlights that exercise helps manage chronic conditions: reduces pain from osteoarthrits, slow progression for hypertension and type 2 diabetes, manage symptoms of Parkinsons, dementia, anxiety and depression.

Lots of activities can be counted as exercise, including shoveling snow and playing with children or pets. There are also so many exercises to choose from, to help ward off boredom and increase the chance to socialize with others.

Give yourself the gift of better health this holiday season, and well into the future. You can check out the health.gov planner by clicking on the link below.

Move Your Way link: Want to get more physical activity? Build a weekly plan

Why Balance is Like Flossing

teeth in balance

You’re lying in the dentist’s chair and he or she asks whether you floss regularly. You nod, and avoid their eyes. Because you know they can see, from the plaque on your teeth, that ‘regularly’ is stretching the truth a bit. You own floss, you do use it – especially after eating ribs or corn – but not exactly every day.

So it is with most of our health. We know what we should be doing, but unless someone is holding up a mirror to us, or displaying pounds on a scale, we sometimes gloss over the truth to ourselves.

Balance is in many ways a holistic measure of a person’s health and fitness. So if you exercise regularly, and challenge your muscles and your balance, it will improve. If you have a period of time where you’re just going through the motions, or skipping the difficult exercises, your balance will deteriorate over time.

Like flossing, you really can’t fake it.

The good news is that, unlike flossing, you can take up balance exercises at any point and start to see improvements within a short period of time. How quickly will depend on a number of factors, including your general fitness and how hard you work at it. There is no quick fix: only by doing will your balance improve.

What should I do?

If you’ve been neglecting balance – or never worked specifically on balance before, it’s worth talking to a personal trainer or instructor who can help assess where you are and how best to move forwards. If you like the social element of group exercise classes, look for Tai Chi or beginner’s yoga near you. The instructor will help you form the poses correctly to maximize benefit and minimize risk of injury.

Even if you’re a regular exerciser or sportsperson, it’s worth checking that you’ve not fallen into a rut with your training. Adding balance training into your workout can help avoid injury and overtraining too.

Free ebook on balance

Click the link above to receive a free ebook on balance and how it works in the body.

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.