One in three adults over 65 will experience a catastrophic fall, and half of those over age 80. Falls are often expensive to recover from and can be followed by serious health problems brought on by even a temporary loss of activity.
So how much do you really know about balance and aging? Here are 7 myths that may surprise you.
Myth 1. Falling is normal
Falling is not a normal part of ageing. Although muscle strength does reduce with age, active people can maintain strength and suppleness. Other factors, such as worsening eyesight and loss of hearing can contribute to a higher risk of falling, but these are also conditions that can be managed.
Myth 2. If I limit my activity, I won’t fall
Actually, the more sedentary your lifestyle, the greater your risk of falling. With balance and exercise, it’s a question of use it or lose it. The current US physical activity guidelines say that to maintain fitness, all adults should aim to do 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week.
Myth 3. If I don’t feel dizzy, my balance is fine
Good balance is the result of communication between various systems in the body. The brain receives sensory input from eyes, ears and limbs, processes the requirements of your environment, then relays instructions back to the muscles in the limbs. A weakness in any part of this chain will result in balance problems. Dizziness is just one sign of impaired balance and can be caused by a number of things, including low blood pressure, dehydration, medication, illness.
Myth 4. Once strength is lost, it can’t be regained
It’s never too late. There are simple exercises that anyone can do to start building strength and improving balance, even if they haven’t exercised for a long time. It is important to speak to your healthcare professional before starting any form of exercise.
Myth 5. I already exercise, so my balance must be fine
In order to improve balance, the exercise should involve the muscles required in balancing the body. Standing exercises are therefore more effective than those performed while sitting down. Tai Chi is more beneficial than walking.
Myth 6. I have already fallen, I’m afraid to try new exercise
There are many exercises that are safe, even after a fall, to strengthen your muscles and help get you back on your feet. Speak to your doctor or physical therapist about which exercises are best suited to you.
Myth 7. If I could measure my balance, it wouldn’t change much from one day to the next
A number of factors affect your balance. For example, a poor night’s sleep, being sedentary for a few days, being ill, or making changes to medication are likely to affect your balance.
For further information on fall prevention and exercise tips, the following resources may be useful:
American Geriatrics Society: www.healthinaging.org
National Council on Aging: www.ncoa.org