This is the third and final part of a series on falling, the floor, and balance. It was originally published as a PDF newsletter article several years ago. This third article is about balance.
FALLING, PART 3
By Bob McMillan
Here’s my definition of Balance: Balance is maintaining your equilibrium. Loss of balance is losing your equilibrium.
Here’s what the Personal Trainer textbook of The National Academy of Sports Medicine says about balance:
“Balance is often thought of as a static process. However, functional balance is a dynamic process involving multiple neurologic pathways. Maintenance of positive equilibrium (or balance) is an integrated process requiring optimal muscular balance (or length tension relationships and force-couple relationships), joint dynamics (or arthrokinematics), and neuromuscular efficiency.” Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, NASM, p.220.
Hmmmmm . . . Got all that?
Four main elements affect balance:
1. Inner ear. These are the fluids and canals in your ear that are sensitive to the positionof your head. They provide sensory cues to your nervous system as to the position of your head in space and provide a major sensory input to balance.
2. Vision. With your eyes open, you have a reference point with the outside world. It helps keep you upright. Try closing your eyes and feel yourself starting to rock back and forth.
3. Receptors/sensors in your feet. When you are standing, the nerves in bottom of your feet are constantly sending signals without you being consciously aware of it. Your body is constantly making minor adjustments to keep you upright.
4. The effects of gravity on your muscles. Gravity is trying to pull you down; your muscles respond by keeping you upright. Your muscles are constantly responding to the gravitational effects on your body, even when you are standing still with an upright posture.
Your Center of Gravity is the intersection of horizontal and vertical positioning of your body. It can be outside of your body if you are leaning or bending. Since your body is constantly moving or repositioning, your center of gravity is also constantly shifting.
Here are the best exercises for balance, simplified: Stand on one leg and do something with the other, without falling over. The longer you can go without falling, the better your balance.
Sounds pretty simplistic doesn’t it? Well, it is . . . even for us seniors. There are plenty ofvariations as to what to do with your other leg. Basically it involves moving, lifting and bending it in different directions.
Most of us don’t often get into many situations where losing our balance will cause a fall where we injure ourselves. Usually, even without any training, we will automatically make the necessary adjustment to prevent us from falling. Most of our falls, you will recall from previous issues, are caused by tripping or slipping. But being able to maintain our balance is still important. If we find ourselves walking down the hallway, staggering back and forth because we can’t maintain our equilibrium, people are likely to imagine all kinds of bad things about us.
So, to keep the rumors from flying, we should probably include some balance exercises in our daily, yes daily, exercise routine. So stand on one leg and do “something” with the other one. Have something nearby to hold on to something for support if you must.
My above comments are intended to be a bit “tongue in cheek”. Balance really is important as we get older. We may not be able to maintain our balance and we may fall as a result. As I said, in most cases we will be able to catch ourselves by using our leg strength as we stick our leg out to regain our balance. I think we make the exercise process too complicated though. Keep it simple: Stand on one leg and doing “something” with the other one.
Here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago that works for me. When you are standing on one leg, hold your ear lobe, on the same side as the leg you are standing on, between your thumb and forefinger and squeeze slightly. Hold it during the entire time you are on one leg. You will be amazed at how much better your balance is. How does it work? I don’t know. It’s one of those “New Agey” things that seem to work.
While some of what I wrote is tongue in cheek, falling is a very serious subject for seniors and should be approached that way. I have fallen, both on my face and on my rear end. Although I have had some bruises, I have avoided serious injury by following the suggestions I have made throughout this series. I hope if you fall, you will avoid serious injury, too.
Thanks for reading. I hope you benefited.