MHLb Why good balance matters now and later

If you haven't yet reached your retirement years there's a good chance that keeping balance in your life refers to your checkbook, the way you approach work and life or your skill on skis or a surfboard.

For older adults the balancing act takes on a whole new level of concern.

Many of us can recall the rather amateurish but highly memorable television commercial when the plaintive voice of an older woman cried out, "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up." You can question the TV production values, but that message was a much imitated reminder that part of the aging process includes the gradual loss of muscle strength, vision, sensory perception, and hearing. 

balanceThe bad news there is that all of those senses or functions contribute to our ability to balance. As a result, falling is a common and alarming problem among older adults. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control estimate that one in three Americans who are at least 65 years old will fall during the course of a year. If you fall when you're more agile and limber, you can offer a sheepish smile to bystanders, then stand up, brush yourself off and get on with it. But it's a different story for the elderly.

In fact, falls are the primary cause of injury-related deaths among the 65-plus crowd as well as the leading cause of non fatal injuries for hip fractures, traumatic brain injuries and other bodily damage. For a sense of scope, almost two and a half million nonfatal fall injuries were treated in U.S. emergency rooms last year. Along with the human element, the medical costs are staggering.

And the danger only increases with age—adults ages 85-plus who've fallen are four times more likely to need nursing home care for a year or longer.

strength-training-for-womenWhile concerns about falls are appropriately directed to an older demographic, balance problems occur at all ages, including teenagers.  For that reason, what you do now, particularly in the area of core strength, will definitely pay dividends over the years. A recent study in the Mayo Clinic Health Letter showed evidence that people who exercised regularly throughout their lives have better balance when they reach the later years.

In next month's issue of My Healthy Lifestyle we'll describe some of the exercises and activities that can be especially helpful for supporting good balance over time. So stay tuned to your newsletter!