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The Importance of Balance For Seniors

We’ve heard the word “balance” applied to all areas of life as we’ve aged. A balanced lifestyle, work-home balance, balanced meals – you name it, balance plays a role in it. We’ve just never thought of the possibility of simply not having physical balance anymore. Yes, it’s true. As we get older, our firm and steady gait may take a detour and turn into a bit of teetering, and for those more affected, stumbling or even tumbling. As already mentioned, this is not a process for the faint-hearted.

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Why The Loss of Balance?

Being a little off balance may not seem all that bad, until it happens to you. And that feeling can be somewhat disturbing to say the least. One moment you’re plodding along confidently and the next, well, you’re teetering slightly in a new direction. And often, that direction was never on your radar. And it’s not really anyone’s fault. Aging has a new surprise for us each year…apparently. The trick is to understand balance, why you lose it, and what you can do to mitigate it. While there are numerous reasons for losing your balance with age, today we're going to focus on muscle strength and flexibility.

The strength and build of your muscles play a role in your balance. Some of the things that may affect how your muscles and movements work include endurance, muscle strength, flexibility, power, range of motion, and alignment. As you get older, your muscles (and their strength) change and this can affect your balance. There’s a little saying that goes “use it or lose it!” and that could not be truer when it comes to muscle strength and balance. Muscles tend to lose strength with age due to a loss of muscle fibers, especially for lower extremity muscles. Lack of exercise and less mobility and flexibility in both muscles and joints can contribute to that unbalanced feeling. As you know, when muscles and joints aren’t properly kept in shape, it can negatively impact your posture. And, of course, poor posture can lead to balance problems.


Dealing with Falls

No one likes to take a tumble, and yet we’ve all been there at some point in our lives. Falling can be a result of poor balance, slipping, or simply not being strong enough to mitigate a wobble.  Falling is the top cause of injury in aging adults. However, falls are not a normal part of aging, and there are steps you can take to ensure you stay safe and avoid the risks of falling. You might think that the best way to deal with a fall is to quickly clamor up, dust yourself off and pretend it didn’t happen (and hope no one saw!) But that’s not the only approach. There are a few simple things you can do to minimize the occurrence of falls in the first place. Ask anyone who has been exercising their entire lives and just entered their senior years how they feel physically, and they will probably tell you they feel energetic and strong. Exercise may be the elixir of life, or at least muscle strength. It’s no secret that strong, toned muscles make balance easier for seniors and it also means that slips and falls happen less often.


Restoring Your Balance

How can you go about getting back what you once had? And we’re talking about balance here, just to be clear. It’s undeniable that gradual changes in physical health and strength, along with medication can have an impact on how the body maintains balance and posture as you get older. One of the ways you can hang onto your youthful balance a while longer (a lot longer if you do it right), is to exercise. You don’t have to sign up for any adrenaline sports, mind you. Something as simple as daily stretching and simple balance-enhancing exercises (done calmly and slowly, don’t worry), can promote better balance as you get older. The best thing about exercise in any form is that it’s great for maintaining physical, mental, and emotional balance. An active lifestyle is more important than ever as you grow older. It keeps you looking good, feeling good, and it also lets everyone else know just how spry you still are – and will be for a long time to come. It’s not great news to find that our bodies become less resilient and more susceptible to health problems as we age. Fortunately, regular exercise is beneficial in offsetting such effects by providing a wide range of benefits that can help you restore and maintain your balance. Let’s take a look at those in the next couple of paragraphs.


Physical Benefits of Regular Exercise

Maintaining tip-top bone health is critical to healthy aging, especially for seniors more susceptible to conditions like osteoporosis. You want bones that can fight back! Bone density usually decreases with age, making us more prone to compromised mobility and fractures. It’s not all bad news though, because exercise is widely recommended as a preventive strategy to reduce osteoporosis by enhancing bone density and ensuring improved skeletal strength. Bones that fight back are dense enough to handle a minor fall and strong enough to power strengthening muscles. Weight-bearing exercises like walking and resistance training are particularly effective in stimulating bone growth and maintaining or increasing bone density, no matter what age you are! When you put your bones under mechanical stress, it triggers the bone-forming cells (osteoblasts) to become more active. As a result, the bones adapt by becoming denser and more robust, reducing the risk of fractures, and promoting overall skeletal integrity. You’ll also have better posture and balance by engaging in weight-bearing exercises, which means those pesky falls you’ve been fearing are a little (or lot) less likely to happen at all.


Unless you’re made of titanium, wear and tear is to be expected as you age. We’ve done a lot with our bodies, and it shows with time. Wear and tear can show itself in the form of stiffness and reduced flexibility and range of motion. This affects posture and balance and lead to falls or instability. It’s safe to say that if you’re feeling a little unstable on your feet, your quality of life is going to be negatively impacted. To counteract this, engaging in exercises that promote joint mobility should become a priority. Activities such as stretching, balance exercises, and wall pilates specifically target joint flexibility and can increase synovial fluid production, which lubricates the joints and reduces friction. Flexibility, which enables muscles and tendons to stretch and move joints through a full range of motion, is closely intertwined with joint health.

Incorporating stretching exercises into a routine promotes flexibility and can alleviate muscle tightness, reducing the risk of strains or sprains. Stretching should be gradual, and you should focus on all major muscle groups, including those in the shoulders, hips, and legs. Everything seems to slow down with age – even blood flow! This means that your blood is taking a little longer to reach your muscles and joints – something the body is not a huge fan of, by the way! Exercising promotes increased circulation, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the muscles a little quicker than when you’re stationary. This improved blood flow prepares the muscles and ensures you don’t get muscle cramps or stiffness. As we hit our senior years, we’re more prone to joint stiffness, which can impact mobility. Dynamic stretching during the warm-up enhances joint flexibility, making performing a full range of motion easier.

Incorporating Good Nutrition to Restore Balance

You are what you eat – at least, that’s what they say! A well-balanced diet, proper hydration, and adequate nutrient intake contribute to overall health. And surprise, surprise, it can significantly reduce the risk of balance loss and falls. This comprehensive approach to nutrition addresses specific elements that are key to promoting mobility, bone health, and overall well-being in seniors. (we recently wrote an article with tips for improving nutrition - click here). Nutrition is not simply about eating. It’s about feeding the body in such a way that it gets all the nutrients it requires for proper functioning. Such nutrients include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water, which provide the energy and resources required to stay healthy and prevent disease. Unfortunately, not all seniors are able to make the best choices when it comes to nutrition, whether its comes down to dental issues, digestive complications, social isolation, or even poor mental health. Nutrition is a cornerstone in preserving musculoskeletal health and is crucial for seniors facing age-related changes in muscle mass, strength, and bone density. The musculoskeletal system, consisting of bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, changes over time, and proper nutrition is essential to mitigate changes and support the natural changes in the body.

It's never too late to embark on a journey toward a healthier, more vibrant you! Rediscover the path to physical well-being. 


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