…it won’t surprise you to know that it can seriously affect your balance.
But did you know that even a mild cold will also have a detrimental effect?
We all know the symptoms that come with a cold: poor sleep, fatigue, difficulty concentrating. All these also affect balance. iShoe’s Director of Marketing, Andrea Case-Rogers, reports her first encounter with a balance test occurred “while recovering from a chest cold. I scored four out of ten on the scale, which worried me as I’d just seen a couple of sixty year-olds score 6’s”. When she was back to normal health, she measured herself again and scored a more comfortable 7/10.
Is there anything that you can do to boost your balance when you’re sick?
- Concentrate on drinking enough liquid and eating well – which should also help your body fight off the cold.
- Distraction is dangerous: give yourself extra time to complete tasks so that you’re not rushing or having to multi-task at a time when your mind is already distracted.
- Be aware that taking cold medication can also impair your balance.
- Try to get some gentle exercise to maintain flexibility in your joints and muscles.
- Take a cat nap, or go to bed earlier if possible, to allow your body to rest, even if sleep itself is difficult.
Above all, recognize that at this time you are more vulnerable to falling and injuring yourself. By being more mindful, you can help prevent an accident.
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
It’s not enough to avoid stepping on banana skins. The food you put in your body can make you fall over too.
An important component of any healthy lifestyle, proper nutrition can also help you improve your balance in both the short- and long-term.
Although the link between nutrition and physical balance is not as clear as the connection between exercise and balance, here are six nutrition-focused tips to help optimize your physical balance and reduce the dangers of falling:
- Eat regular, well-balanced meals: In one study, researchers found that fasting reduced people’s ability to balance on one leg, along with other declines in common balance measures. Eating at regular intervals can help stabilize your blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of other side effects which can lead to falling.
- Reduce alcohol consumption: While alcohol clearly has a short-term effect on physical ability—stumbling and slower motor skills, to name a few—chronic alcohol consumption can also damage your physical abilities. Ataxia, a loss of balance and coordination, is one condition that can result from nerve damage and vitamin B deficiency after long-term alcohol abuse.
- Increase calcium levels: Getting enough calcium through eating whole foods or taking supplements can help improve your bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. This can help minimize the likelihood of a debilitating fracture in the case of a fall.
- Add a vitamin D supplement: Vitamin D improves muscle strength and balance, and some studies have shown it also has a positive effect on neural coordination and the signals in your brain that control muscle movement.
- Increase protein intake: Do you know the recommended amount of protein you should be consuming for your height, weight, age and activity level? Older adults should be particularly careful in monitoring their protein intake, particularly if your goal is to build muscle through fall prevention exercises. Getting enough protein is important to the muscle-building process, which can in turn help you achieve better balance.
- Drink water: You know it’s good for you for a number of reasons, but did you know that being dehydrated stresses your body, which makes it more difficult to balance? The National Institute of Health advises adults drink 8-13 glasses of liquid (ideally water, but juice, tea, coffee, soup also count) per day to stay hydrated.
Did you know people who sleep for less than 5 hours a night increase their risk of having a fall by 50%?
Or that elderly men who suffer from poor sleep also walk more slowly and have lower grip strength compared to those who sleep well?
Or that elderly women who sleep poorly are slower to get out of a chair and into a standing position?
In numerous studies on sleep and health in adults over 65, researchers have found that those who sleep well suffer fewer other health problems than those who have insomnia or disturbed sleep patterns.
Poor sleep affects balance in 3 ways:
- It makes you tired during the day, so you are likely to be less alert. You may not notice your cat curled up on the rug, until you trip over it.
- Your reaction times become slower, so you need more time between noticing something that may trip you up, and being able to take avoiding action (step around the cat, for example).
- Daytime sleepiness also makes you less motivated to take your exercise class or go for a walk. But without daily exercise, you’ll lose the strength in your muscles and any stiffness will increase, which means your balance will become worse.
So what can you do to improve your sleep quality?
Sometimes having a nap during the day can help catch up on one night of disrupted sleep, but if poor sleep is an every night problem for you, it might be worth reviewing your sleep habits.
The following are known to help people sleep better:
- Try to keep to the same routine, always going to bed and getting up at the same time each day
- Have a warm milky drink or a banana shortly before bedtime
- Don’t drink caffeinated drinks in the afternoon or evening
- Don’t drink alcohol: it might make you feel sleepy to start with, but it disrupts sleep quality
- Don’t eat very large or spicy meals late at night
- Take some exercise, even a walk, each day
- Don’t watch television or use a computer as part of your night time routine, as the screen will stimulate your brain, not relax it
- Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and cool, ideally 60-67 degrees
- Listen to some relaxing music before bed
- Read or listen to an audio book before bed
- Think about changing your pillow or mattress if they are no longer comfortable and supporting
Further information, including regarding foods that can help promote sleep can be found from the National Sleep Foundation.
As people age, we find ourselves taking more medications. They’re usually prescribed to maintain our health, for example keeping cholesterol and blood pressure at good levels. Then we reach for over-the-counter remedies to take care of minor aches or temporary stiffness.
A quick scan through the over-the-counter remedies in my own bathroom reveals that the vast majority of them cite dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and fatigue as potential side effects. All of which will undermine my ability to stay on my feet.
Some drugs affect balance most when we start taking them. For example, antihypertensives, used to lower blood pressure, increase a patient’s fall risk most in the first 14-21 days of beginning the course of medication. Some of that risk is as the body adjusts to a different level of blood pressure, but the fall risk remains high for those patients changing from one type of antihypertensive to another. The body needs time to adjust to the new drug, to process what is basically a cascade of chemical reactions that can affect everything from your appetite to your inner ear sensitivity.
And, did you know that taking more than 4 medications dramatically increases your risk of falling? As we age, medicines take longer to break down in the body, causing different reactions compared with when we were younger. Drugs that didn’t cause side effects before can suddenly begin to do so. Even vitamins and alternative supplements can have an effect on each other and should be part of a discussion with your doctor.
Sometimes a particular formula suits one patient better than another. If you experience dizziness or other discomfit, it is worth talking through alternatives with your doctor, to find a solution that manages your condition without putting you at greater risk of a fall.
And in the meantime? Be extra careful by reducing trip hazards in your environment like loose rugs and cords; always switch on a light when entering a room, even for a moment; ensure your shoes are stable and comfortable.
For a complete list of home safety tips regarding fall prevention, click here.
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.