Health & Exercise
How Does Balance Work and How Can I Improve It?
For seniors, Movement is Magic: it lifts your spirits, strengthens your bones and muscles, and keeps you connected to the people you love. A healthy sense of balance is the key to safe movement, as it helps protect you from falls and stumbles. Read on to learn more about your body’s sense of balance and get some tips on how to improve it.
What is balance?
Your sense of balance is what keeps you from falling over when you stand or move, and it’s guided by three sources of information: What you can see (the sky is up, the ground is down), what you can feel (your awareness of your body and its relationship to your surroundings) and messages from your vestibular system, which is a labyrinth of bones, canals, fluid, and membranes in your inner ears.
How does my sense of balance work?
Your vestibular system may seem like something straight out of a science fiction novel, but the way it works is actually pretty cool. Each ear has three curved canals and two tiny organs (otolith organs) that are all filled with fluid. When you turn your head, the fluid in the canals turns with you and bends the special hair-shaped receptor cells inside. That bending movement sends a message to your brain that your head or body is in motion. Your otolith organs also have hair-shaped cells inside, and the “hairs” are covered in small crystals. These organs detect acceleration, such as driving a car, falling out of your chair, or riding a rollercoaster.
Does balance change as we age?
Yep, and our sense of balance begins decreasing naturally around the ripe old age of 25. It’s nothing to panic about, but definitely something to keep in mind as you get older and want to reduce your risk of falling and injury.
Multiple factors can contribute to the decrease in balance as we age: Cells in the vestibular system die off as we get older (a totally normal part of aging), eyesight can decline, blood pressure changes can cause lightheadedness or fainting, reflexes slow down, muscle mass and strength decreases, and certain medications can affect your sense of balance, too.
How can I improve my sense of balance as I get older?
Before you start any exercise program, talk to your doctor to make sure you’re able to do it safely. These simple moves can help you strengthen your balance:
• Stand on one foot. See if you can do it for ten seconds, then try it with your other foot.
• Walk in a straight line, heel to toe.
• Practice sitting in a chair and standing up without using your arms or hands to help.
• Dance. Any time, anywhere!
• Take a yoga, Tai Chi, or Pilates class. These exercises focus on balance and strength, two must-haves for healthy aging.
• Grab your Camino and take a walk! When you practice moving regularly, your confidence in your sense of balance will grow.