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Why Balance Exercises are Important as You Age

Chronological aging is inevitable – each year we all celebrate another year of life with a birthday. We also age biologically, which means our bodies undergo physical transformations that decrease the physiological efficiency of many of our systems. These physiological changes affect our respiratory and cardiovascular systems, our musculoskeletal system, and our neurological system. The changes that can occur to our musculoskeletal & neurological systems can have a significant impact on our quality of life as we age. The good news is the power of exercise can mitigate some of these changes and allow us to age successfully and injury free. Let’s take a look at some of the age-related changes that can occur to these systems.

Musculoskeletal System

  • Bone density declines after age 30, which increase the risk of osteoporosis (this decline is more rapid in menopausal women).

  • Muscle mass decreases – after age 30 there can be a 3-5% loss of muscle mass per decade. This results in a significant loss of strength.

  • Connective tissues (tendon, skin, cartilage) deteriorate and lose elasticity and water content which contributes to joint stiffness.

Neurological System

  • Coordination and balance decrease due to deterioration of the receptors in our joints which allow us to perceive or determine the position of our body/limbs in space (this is known as proprioception).

The above combined effects of loss of muscle mass, strength, and proprioception creates an alarmingly high risk of falls as we age. The risk of a significant fall-related injury in the elderly such as a fracture or dislocation to a bone or joint is elevated due to the loss of bone density. These injuries can impact one’s quality of life with the potential loss of independence as well as increasing the threat of depression.

So where does the power of exercise fit? The effects of aging are often associated with a decrease in physical activity and weight-bearing types of activity. To mitigate these effects we need to increase our activity levels, add strength training in weight-bearing positions, and incorporate balance-based exercises!

Many research studies have shown exercise programs that incorporate balance movements reduce the risk of falls as well as the prevention of fall-related injuries in the aging population. Whether you are in your 20’s or 70’s balance training should be part of your exercise regime or your activities of daily living!Here are a few ideas to get you started!

  • If you are in the gym:

  • Add fitness equipment to your exercises to help create instability (stability ball, bosu ball, sit fit, wobble/balance boards, mini-trampoline).

  • Perform single leg weight-bearing exercises (step-ups, single-leg 1/4 squats, single-leg deadlifts, lunges).

  • Add core focused exercises with or without the aforementioned fitness equipment (front plank, side plank, try lifting one arm or leg while in plank position).

  • If you are at home:

  • Stand on one leg while you brush your teeth, do the dishes, cook dinner, or other activities of daily living.

  • Stand on a pillow to make any home-based exercise more difficult (see above gym exercises).

  • Use a stair to do a step-up (try not to use the stair railing, or try not putting your other foot down once you have stepped up on the stair).

  • Add core focused exercises (front plank, side plank, try lifting one arm or leg while in plank position).

  • Do a heel-to-toe walk for as long as you can before coming out of the position.

  • Make any of the above home or gym exercises harder by closing your eyes!

Visit POP Fitness on Facebook to watch the videos on how to test & score your balance; and work on improving your balance with my beginner, intermediate, and advanced balance exercise video series!

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#balance #fitness #exercise #stability #aging

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