STEP OUT WITH SENIORS: Finding balance is part of aging

As I watched the young ballerina stand on one foot balancing on her toes I was amazed. Her strength was so visible, but it was her balance that really caught my eye – she never wavered.

She was able to do this because she had practiced it over and over again. It was a learned, and beautiful, skill.

Balance is a skill we all need to have to go about our daily tasks.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s studies show every year 30 to 50 percent of all people older than 65 experience a fall. Falling is the No. 2 cause of death in women ages 65 to 85 and the No. 4 cause of death among men in the same age group.

Through the years aging can cause a loss of muscle strength and flexibility. Dr. W.J. Evans, chief of the physiology laboratory at the Human Research Nutrition Center at Tufts University, states most falls are the result of inactivity “due to profound muscle weakness from not doing anything.”

A great number of older seniors are afraid to move about or exercise because they fear they will lose their balance, fall and break a bone. Being afraid makes people hold their bodies tensely and this, too, contributes to falling. So, they stay home doing nothing because they assume doing nothing is safest.

As they spend more time sitting, they find it increasingly difficult to get up from their chair often finding they wobble a bit and feel as if they are losing their balance. They also find they are taking shorter and shorter steps and are too tired to do much of anything. They cannot easily move around objects or people they find in their way and may even have to hang on to furniture to move about safely.

I do not know about you, but that is a pretty scary scenario. Those of us who get out and walk every day or join an exercise class are working to stay strong and healthy and improve our balance, and you can too. The key to losing your fear of falling is to get stronger by practicing simple balance exercises.

Here are a few ways to get started – after first checking with your doctor to see is he or she has specific suggestions for you. As always, it is important to warm up first so walk about for a bit, perhaps in and out of the rooms on the first floor of your house. Now:

1. Stand next to a wall, table or kitchen counter, something you can easily put your hand on to steady yourself.

2. Raise and lower your arms three or four times, inhaling as your raise your arms and exhaling as you lower them. Bend your knees a few times, too.

3. You will need to find a “focal point” – that is, a place you can focus your eyes on while you practice balancing.

4. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and shift your weight from side to side. If you can, lift one or both hands up off your support.

5. Stand on one foot and lift the other off the floor while you count to five. Try counting to 10.

6. Walk in a circle to the right and then to the left.

You can start doing just one thing at a time and adding a new exercise every few days.

Some of you will think this is easy. If so, you may be ready to join an exercise class at your local senior center or fitness facility. You might want to try a tai chi or chair yoga class.

I do not want to be afraid of falling so I work on balance and strength every day so I can garden, walk into a theater and play with my grandchildren.  How about you? It is never too late to start.

Come on, seniors, let’s step out, over and around things we encounter on our way.


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