Health Ministry Monday: Balance Check

We are often told that life is all about maintaining balance. That becomes literally true as we age. Having good balance helps you walk without staggering, get up from a chair without difficulty, climb stairs without tripping, bend over without falling, and navigate objects with more confidence.

Inside our ears is a balance center called the vestibular system that detects where our body is in space. As we age, cells in the vestibular system die off. Aging also has an effect on our sight. We lose muscle mass, strength, coordination, and our reflexes slow. Blood pressure can dip suddenly when we stand up, causing lightheadedness, blurry vision, even fainting. Our health struggles and even the medications we take can interfere with balance.
Don’t let a fear of falling keep you from being active. The good news is that there are simple ways you can improve balance and prevent most falls. Stay physically active. Regular exercise makes you stronger. Weight-bearing activities, like walking or climbing stairs, may slow bone loss.

Go4Life.nia.nih.gov recommends having your eyes and hearing tested often. Always wear your glasses when you need them. If you have a hearing aid, be sure it fits well, and wear it. If your medications make you sleepy or dizzy, tell your doctor or pharmacist. Get enough sleep. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Even a small amount can affect balance and reflexes. Stand up slowly after eating, lying down, or sitting. Wear rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes that fully support your feet. Wearing only socks or shoes/slippers with smooth soles on stairs or floors without carpet can be unsafe.

Along with regular aerobic exercise and weight training, balance exercises are important as we get older. It can be as simple as standing behind a chair for support and rising up on your toes, or alternating leg lifts to the side and back. Chair stands, step ups, and get up and go activities are a great way to improve dynamic balance.

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