We experience a lot of changes in our body as we age, some drastic and some more minor. Balance doesn’t often come to mind when we think of the issues we will face as we get older, but once you begin to face it it feels significant. If your balance is good, you are stable and steady while participating in regular activities like standing, sitting, and walking. But if you struggle to control and maintain your body’s position while performing these normal tasks, it can be dangerous and lead to risk of falls and injury. It’s important to be aware of changes to your abilities in this area and to do what you can to maintain them.
How Does Balance Work?
There are three systems in your body that work together to achieve balance: your inner ear, which is filled with fluid; your vision; and your somatosensory system, which includes muscles and joints. Your brain coordinates input from these three areas to make positional and postural adjustments to maintain balance. Like most of our automatic body functions, we don’t give it much thought until it stops working properly.
What Causes Balance to Deteriorate?
The simple fact of aging can diminish vision and impair the inner ear. Your muscles get weaker and joints stiffen, making them less responsive to your brain’s commands to move quickly. There are also certain diseases and disorders which can affect balance, such as anxiety, migraines, or even certain medications. If you have balance problems you think are being caused by an issue other than aging, check in with your doctor to rule out other causes.
How Can We Improve Balance?
Being mindful of your balance should begin at a relatively young age. You might be surprised to learn that balance can begin to deteriorate at around age 30—it’s not just a problem for older adults. You need to maintain it your entire life. But if you’re past your 30’s, not to worry, you can still improve your balance. Get clearance from your doctor and work with a trainer on these issues.
- Strengthen core muscles
- Practice yoga or tai chi
- Improve agility
- Stabilize and strengthen ankles
- Build bone density through weight-bearing exercises
Balance disorders are serious because of the risk of falls and injury, however the fear of falling often causes people to do less physically. But restrictions in your activities can paradoxically increase your risk of weakness and falls. So if you’re struggling with balance, don’t ignore it or wait to try and improve it. Good balance is key to an enjoyable and fulfilling life.