A disability can sometimes be caused by a simple fall. As people age the risk of falling increases, in part, because their ability to balance is shaky. Vision problems, loss of strength, medication side-effects, as well as medical conditions adds to risk of unsteadiness in an aging population.
A recent Mayo Clinic study of 130 older adults found that individuals who had been physically active their entire life had the best balance. Those who had led sedentary lives have the worst balance. Latecomers to exercise had nearly as good balance as those who had been active their entire life. Not surprisingly, those individuals who had been active, but had become sedentary, had balance nearly as poor as those who had never been active.
The study suggest that walking, or any exercise that gets a person’s arms and legs moving in coordination, improves balance. The researchers feel that it is important to work the muscles and stimulate the nerve communication, which is needed for balance and coordination.
Another simple exercise that helps improve balance is to stand on one foot, then the other, while brushing your teeth or washing the dishes. A more advanced exercise is to walk heel-to-toe as if walking on a line.
Personal trainers and physical therapist may suggest more advanced balance exercises, which can include an inflatable “stability” ball or a balance trainer, such as a half-ball attached to a flat base also known as a wobble board.
One method that is growing in popularity is Tai Chi. This is a gentle form of Chinese martial arts that consists of a series of gentle, graceful movements that help improve balance and coordination—check for classes at your community center or health club.