Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Balance: Use It or Lose It

By Tommi Ferguson, NSV Member Services Coordinator


There has been plenty of press in recent years about the loss of bone and muscle mass as we age. However, what most people need to consider is that the same is true of our balance. In a May 2, 2011 article in the Los Angeles Times, Jeannine Stein aptly summed up the decline of balance: “Like muscles and bones, steadiness can deteriorate if not maintained.” Compounding the loss of muscle and bone mass, our “senses involved with balance start to dull too as we get older: vision as well as senses of touch, temperature, pressure and proprioception (the sense of body placement and how it moves through space)”.

The skills needed for good balance - timing and coordination - are learned and practiced and honed over time. However, as we age and/or become more sedentary, those skills begin to erode. So, it would seem for balance, you use it or lose it! But there is hope – and it can start at any age. In her article, Stein cites two studies – a 2007 study in Osteoporosis International and 2010 study in the International Journal of Rehabilitation Research – that found study participants enrolled in balance- and weight-training programs had improved mobility and balance and were less likely to slip.

Similarly, in a 2003 report on a study of training exercise and fall occurrences in older adults published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers reported that, “Physical activity specifically targeting lower-body balance and strength shows promise in reducing the risk of falls." Specifically, they found that over the course of 48 weeks, study participants who took tai chi twice a week were at significantly lower risk of falling compared to a group that only attended wellness-education classes.

Balance training generally begins with strengthening all muscles, but focuses most heavily on targeting the lower body and core muscles (the ones surrounding the trunk and back). Exercise programs like tai chi and yoga seem to be the best match for improving balance and coordination no matter what your age. Improved balance may help save older adults from serious injuries, expensive medical bills, and lengthy recovery periods. Further, with increased confidence in steadiness, the fear of falling may no longer hinder people from engagement in social and physical activity.

Those interested in learning more are encouraged to attend our Tuesday, November 8, 2011, program on Balance and Fall Prevention (details below). Our speaker will be from The Center on Health Promotion at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Department of Disability and Human Development. The Center provides Inclusive Fitness Trainings nationally on behalf of the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD). The presenter has graduate training in exercise science and kinesiology and will tell us about current research and, also, will demonstrate simple flexibility, strength, and “cardio” exercises for attendees. Staff at the Center focus on planning physical activity programs for older adults and people with disabilities.

Balance & Fall Prevention Program - Tuesday, November 8, 1:30 pm at the Park Evanston party room, 1630 Chicago Ave., Evanston. Registration limited to 50 people. To register, contact NSV at 224-234-2450 or info@northshore-village.org .

Additional Resources:
Los Angeles Times article by Jeannine Stein: Balance Doesn't Have to Slip Away

AARP Bulletin article by Katharine Greider: New Strategies for Preventing Falls

Fall Prevention Guidelines from the American Geriatrics Society




This article was written by Tommi Ferguson, Member Services Coordinator for North Shore Village and reprinted with their kind permission. Eric Parker is a volunteer for North Shore Village - to learn more about North Shore Village, check the S&B Links Page at
http://www.stotis-baird.com/library/index.php?option=com_weblinks&catid=31&Itemid=23 or Contact Member Services at 224-234-2450 or info@northshore-village.org

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