The Spinal Column The Newsletter About Your Health And Caring For Your Body
ISSUE NUMBER 20
EFFECTS OF AGING ON STRENGTH, BALANCE & FALLING
The Problem: All of us have taken a tumble at some point in our lives. But as we grow older, the risks associated with falling over become greater, We lose physical strength and bone density, our sense of balance deteriorates and we take longer to recover from a fall. The human body is inherently unstable, with a small base relative to its height. Maintaining an upright position and moving from place to place while staying balanced is a continual challenge for our bodies. Our success depends on the well- being and integration of many different systems within our bodies. There are three main systems that provide us with the sensory information about our bodies and the surrounding environment that we need to maintain balance. Our eyes, inner ear and feedback from our joints provide information to maintain balance. Our brains must rapidly and continuously integrate and then process the sensory information received and this integration is often worse in older people. With age and inactivity, the processes your brain goes through may not integrate as well or as quickly as cognitive abilities decline. The result is less ability to "multi-task", and common with elderly. The normal sensory feedback from your joints to the brain is reduced by swollen feet and ankles and poor flexibility. Diseases in weight-bearing joints, such as arthritis, may cause errors in foot placement, while distorted or painful feet and poorly-fitted shoes can pass misleading information to the brain about the nature of your contact with the ground when you’re walking. Eyesight gets worse, with increased susceptibility to glare and poor depth perception. This can lead to misjudgment of distance, or dealing with uneven surfaces which can cause a fall.
Vertigo or inner ear infections are causes of dizziness, which can also increase the risk of a falls. Certain medications which are commonly prescribed among the older population – such as aspirin, quinine, and some antibiotics and diuretics – can lead to problems with balance. There’s a risk that older people will to descend into a vicious spiral of inactivity: many of these “ageing” changes to the body are accelerated by sedentary behavior, which in turn leads to a greater reduction in strength and balance, loss of bone and an increased risk of falls. The Solution.....Never too late It’s never too late to start. By concentrating on forms of exercise that challenge strength and balance, we can help maintain our bodies’ complex balancing systems. It is possible to break this vicious circle and slow the process of deterioration, improve strength and balance and reduce the risk of future falls by being active. We should aim to be active every day and build up to 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, which should make you feel slightly out of breath and a bit warmer. This time can be accumulated in ten to twenty minute bursts. At least two of these short sessions should build strength and balance: examples include lifting weights, yoga, Tai Chi, postural stability classes and dancing.
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