Improving Your Balance
The ability to keep yourself upright and maintain equilibrium is known as balance. Our sense of balance declines as we age, and by age 65, one in four adults suffer from a serious fall. Visionary cues, nerve receptors in our ears, and the nerves in our muscles all contribute to our ability to maintain balance.
How Does Balance Work?
Our spacial awareness is highly influenced by sight. Our sense of sight keeps us from over or underestimating our distance from objects, which helps avoid a collision with something that could throw us off balance. Next, our inner ear contains nerve embedded, fluid-filled canals that send signals to the brain. These nerves can tell when we move our heads side to side and up and down. Lastly, proprioceptors are sensory receptors within our muscles. These receive stimuli responding to position and movement and sends it to our brains. All the above help us position ourselves to keep our equilibrium. When one or more of these systems is compromised, we are thrown off balance.
The following can occur when one of our systems is not working correctly:
Vertigo: Vertigo is the feeling of spinning or unsteadiness when standing in a grounded spot. Problems with the inner ear can result in vertigo.
Motion sickness: This phenomenon occurs when your eyes and ears don’t agree. Your eyes may be telling your brain your environment is steady while your ears are sensing motion.
Falls: Annually, one-third of people over 65 report a fall, and two-thirds of these will fall again within a six month period. When an elderly adult suffers a fall, their hospital stay is twice as long as the stay of an elderly person admitted for another reason. Falls can lead to hip fractures and other serious ailments.
Improving Your Balance
While some factors that effect equilibrium are out of your control, there are some ways to improve this motor skill. Doing exercises that help keep the hips, knees and ankles strong can help lower the risk of falling! Also, closing your eyes after getting comfortable with these exercises will stimulate your vestibular system. Try to keep a wall or grounded object within arm’s reach when first practicing in case you feel yourself begin to waver.
One legged stands: While standing up straight, lift one leg by bending your knee. Hold this pose for 5 to 10 seconds, and then lower your foot and repeat with the opposite leg.
Standing from a chair: This exercise will help your balance as well as your strength. While sitting, raise yourself out of the seated position without using your arms. If possible, you can even use your arms to gain momentum and jump out of the chair.
Tai Chi and Yoga: Tai Chi and yoga are both known for promoting balance through gentle poses.
Walking heel to toe: Place one foot in front of the other, lining the heel of your first foot up with the toes of your back foot. Continue to walk this way for 20 paces, keeping your gaze forward.
Catch your Z’s: Getting a solid night’s sleep is a big factor in preventing falls. Sleep deprivation increases the chances of falling significantly.
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