Why Is Balance So Important?

I used to marvel at tight rope walkers in the circus.  How could they have such great balance and confidence.

In my younger years I was in lots of activities such as swimming, cheerleading, soccer, basketball, softball and track. I never thought about balance because it was never an issue.  When I got older, I seemed less secure and more apt to fall.  I wondered why.

Research suggests that older people often have poor balance due to loss of muscle strength and joint flexibility, as well as reduced vision and reaction time. And the risk of inner ear dysfunction, which can throw you off balance, increases with age. Falls, of course are a major cause of fractures, which increase as people get older

In our senior years, we like to think of ourselves as young, especially if our health is relatively good. The good news is that we can keep our resiliency if we learn tricks of the trade.

1.  Improve your balance by walking – Brisk walking helps build lower-body strength, an important element of good balance. Walking is safe exercise for most people and, in addition to improving balance, counts toward your aerobic activity goals.

2.  Endurance, or aerobic, activities – Group exercises, like yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi or Feldenkrais, are fun and social ways to improve flexibility and balance, key to helping prevent falls in older adults.  They also appeal to seniors living with arthritis. These activities not only increase your breathing and heart rate, they also increase your flexibility.  Some examples include jogging, dancing, swimming, and biking.  It is recommended that seniors age 65 and older get at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) every week. 

3.  Strength exercises make your muscles stronger – Swimming may well be the perfect lifelong sport: It’s a low-impact, joint-friendly, a sustainable way to stay in great shape at any age. I personally like it better than lifting weights, although weightlifting is included in my aerobic cases.

4. Balance exercises help prevent falls – These exercises include: Single Limb Stance, walking Heel to Toe, Clock Reach, Back Leg raises, and side leg raises.

5. Flexibility exercises stretch your muscles and can help your body stay limber. Stretching will help offset the effects of normal decline in the flexibility of your joints, and help you remain active and independent.  As we age muscles become shorter and lose their elasticity. Aging can affect the structure of your bones and muscles causing pain and decreased range of motion in the shoulders, spine and hips. Stretching is an excellent way to relax and relieve tension if you incorporate breathing exercises and good posture in your stretching program.  It becomes very important for seniors to maintain range of motion and your ability to move all joints normally with activities during the day.

Maybe we won’t ever walk a tight rope, but we can improve our balance and flexibility with a regular routine of varied exercises.