Updated: May 10, 2022
Did you know that balance starts to decline slowly in your 40's or 50's and most people don't even think about it until they fall? Each year, millions of older adults fall and it is estimated that one in four older adults fall each year, but less than half tell their Doctor.
Balance can slowly deteriorate as a result of slowly declining senses, the reducing ability to process and integrate input from the outside world and body senses, and overall loss of strength and mobility.
So what can you do about it? The first line of defense should be exercise, movement, and balance exercises. Just because balance will naturally decline doesn't mean your balance has to significantly decline. You don't have to end up with a cane, walker, or wheelchair toward the later years of your life.
Here's one major problem I see: An older person falls and ends up at the Doctor or hospital complaining of a fall. Their suggestion? Get a cane or walker, you shouldn't be walking without one or else you might fall again. HOLD ON A MINUTE! So we're immediately going to go with "you're as good as you're going to be, even though you haven't exercised in years and have never even tried a balance exercise, but you might as well throw in the towel now and start using a walking aid." Don't get me wrong, many people NEED a cane or walker for safety and mobility. But this shouldn't be a first line of defense if natural, restorative measures haven't been tried first.
So, what exercises can you do to improve your balance? First of all, if you're very sedentary, the simple act of going for a walk or a few short walks per day can significantly improve your mobility, strength, and balance. If you're more active, adding balance exercises to your routine will help a ton.
Here's one you can try: The Single leg stance. It's very simple. Stand behind a steady surface, such as a counter. Start out by holding on for safety. Now try to stand on one leg. Is it too easy while holding on? Then, try letting go! Now try with the other leg. See how long you can stand on one leg while holding on, and how long you can stand without holding on. Aim for 30 seconds on each leg to tolerance. If that's too easy, then it's time to consult a Physical Therapist for more challenging balance exercises.
It's a no-brainer: Balance is essential to daily mobility and maintaining an active, independent lifestyle. But its importance is ignored and the fact that it can be improved upon is greatly ignored as well. Instead, people are handed a cane or walker and are left to slowly decline until they are sitting in a wheelchair in a nursing home. I see it all the time. And it's so sad, since starting to incorporate more exercise and simple balance exercises into your routine starting as early as your 30's will have a direct correlation with the quality of life you will experience as you age. And it's never too late to start. In PT, we see patients in their 70's and 80's walking in with a cane and walking out 8 weeks later without one. Or older patients who are falling once a week and now no longer have falls. Of course, this isn't the case in every situation, but it's not as uncommon as you'd think.
If you think your balance is declining, you've noticed loss of balance, or you are starting to experience falls, PLEASE consult with a PT. Now is the critical turning point. You can improve and live a long, healthy, active, happy life, or you can slowly deteriorate until you're sitting in a wheelchair somewhere. I don't mean to sound so dramatic, but at the same time, I do. This is a serious issue. Most people don't think about the gravity of the situation until it's too late or they've fallen and broken their hip. If you do something about it now, your future you will thank you, I guarantee it.
If you don't have a PT to consult with about your balance and would like to talk to one of our Doctors, feel free to register for a free consultation here: https://www.thegreenroomptny.com/events-and-offers
In good health,
Dr. Ashley Bertorelli, PT and Clinic Founder
Clifton Park & Troy