Balance for Better Health and Longevity!
This is one of my favorite balance building yoga posses, Natarajasana (Dancer's Pose), that I've perfected over the years to be able to do with my eyes closed on an unstable rolling log. At 56 years old, I continue to find ways to challenge myself to strengthen my balancing skills to prevent future falls and potential serious injury, as well as maintaining strength, flexibility, agility, and stronger cognitive skills! Health benefits from this pose are: stretches shoulders, chest and abdomen, elongates hamstrings, quadriceps, the groin, strengthens back, standing leg and ankle, improves balance, coordination, and concentration. * Please, implement safety at all times! Do not move to this level of balancing ability unless you are skilled and/or have another person there to spot you and keep you safe!
Have you checked to see how good your balance is lately? Are you able to stand on one foot for more than 10 seconds? How we balance provides insight into our health and longevity. According to Robbin Howard, assistant professor of physical therapy at USC, “Balance keeps us upright and allows us to do all the many things in life we want to do.” She also believes that physical stability is an integral part to our survival and well-being. I agree!!
Balance training has become very popular these days, and for good reason: Balance is about control. Watch any toddler learning to walk and the process they go through trying to gain the needed balance to be able to move freely. Once a toddler learns to balance their body, they have control over their movements. The importance of balance doesn’t change as we age. If we stop using our body, as the saying goes, "If you don't use it, you lose it" applies to this important skill. The better our ability to balance as we age, the less chance we have of experiencing injury from a fall. Better body balance makes it easier to move and helps prevent injury.
We all fall throughout our lives, but as we age, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among older Americans. Thankfully, falling is not an inevitable consequence of aging. With practical lifestyle changes, evidence-based falls prevention programs, and clinical-community partnerships, the number of falls among senior citizens can be reduced substantially.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
1 in 3 adults older than 65 falls each year — often resulting in head trauma, hip fractures and admission to nursing facilities.
In 2013, about 25,000 older adults in the U.S. died of fall injuries.
Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths.
In 2013, the total cost of fall injuries was $34 billion.
The financial toll for older adult falls is expected to increase as the population ages and may reach $67.7 billion by 2020.
For me, I’ve been know to fall starting in my late teens due to inner ear problems; Vestibular Neuritis and Labyrinthitis. Symptoms of both vestibular neuritis and labyrinthitis typically include dizziness or vertigo, disequilibrium or imbalance. Later, due to ongoing migraines, my inner ear issues were given the diagnosis of recurrent vertigo attributed to migraine-associated vertigo. Because of this, I found it vital to improve my ability to balance and maintain this throughout my life to prevent serious injuries. Thank goodness over 30 years ago I also made major changes in my diet and started eating a whole-food plant-based diet and I was able to halt migraines from occurring a few times each month and stop chronic abdominal pain, constipation, sinus infections, severe acid reflux, etc. My life completely improved for the better due to simple changes in diet and lifestyle.
I worry about my mother, who is legally blind with Macular Degeneration, along with Type 2 diabetes. I can’t imagine adding the inability to see to this scenario, along with the potential side effects from the medications needed to manage her diabetes and other health issues. Falls, with or without injury, also impact the quality of life as we age. A growing number of older adults fear falling and, as a result, limit their activities and social engagements. This can result in further physical decline, depression, social isolation, and feelings of helplessness. We have the ability to improve our chances of falling as we age.
In some ways, simply staying upright is a full-body exercise. We have fluid-filled “organs of balance” in our inner ear that monitor the position and rotation of our head, just as there are sensors known as proprioceptors Even when standing "still," we rely on proprioceptors — nerve receptors in the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints of our feet and ankles that exchange sensory signals to our brain, which react by directing impulses that fire subtle muscle movements in our lower limbs to keep us balanced. We also rely on information from our vision as well as our vestibular system (the motion-detecting organs nestled deep within each ear) to help us orient where we are in space. Under normal conditions, maintaining balance is almost as automatic as breathing. We rely on our main body systems working together to enable us to do something as simple as standing on two feet. Without balance, we couldn’t stand, walk, or even focus our eyes on a simple object in motion; let alone ride a bike, play tennis, or throw a ball.
Balance can decline with age, like all body systems. However, with changes in lifestyle, we can slow down the progression, and even reverse damage that you or loved ones may be experiencing. As I mentioned earlier regarding my mother and her inability to see, we know that vision can decrease as we age. Even the sensitivity in the bottoms of our feet may decline, if we aren’t prudent in managing how we care for our bodies. Studies show that after the age of 40, foot proprioception begins a steep decline. That’s another reason why I go barefoot as often as possible and wear barefoot shoes to stimulate those nerve endings and keep them functioning optimally. You may want to read my blog on this topic or watch our video to give you some ideas how to maintain healthy feet and overall body wellness from going barefoot.
A number of medical conditions may also affect stability, such as diabetes, which can damage nerves in the feet. Other illnesses such as vestibular problems, which make people feel dizzy and can be caused by viruses, acoustic tumors, inflammation, and side-effects of certain medications.
The good news is that this fate is not necessarily inevitable, experts say. "We lose balance because we don't challenge ourselves," says Ryan DeWitt, a physical therapist in Santa Cruz. "Just like challenging our minds with crossword puzzles, we need to challenge our balance with new ways of moving."
Sadly, the fear of falling is a key reason that prevents people from staying active and trying new moves as they age. This sedentary behavior promotes further decline in balancing capabilities, as well as a host of other health conditions. For some older adults, the ability to rise from a chair and walk across the room is difficult. This requires coordination of muscle strength, balance, and aerobic activity. It’s clear that if we want to be able to live independently as we age, we must maintain an active lifestyle. An emerging body of research suggests that if we engage in exercises that tax our coordination, agility, and balance, this helps to rewire our brain in ways that are fundamentally different from straightforward aerobic activity or strength training. By improving these physical attributes, we may enhance cognitive performance. Unpredictable movements, along with simple balance exercises, involving mental tasks like crossword puzzles, reading, engaging in meaningful conversations, a healthy diet preventing or reversing inflammation and chronic disease are essential to keep our brain and body functioning optimally. We also benefit by increasing our muscular endurance and flexibility. We gain improved health across the board!
I’ll say it again…The more sedentary we become, the less input we will get from all of our body systems. However, the more we move each day, the more we stimulate our balancing systems, along with the other body systems, and this will promote increased stability/balance, overall better health and wellness, giving new meaning to many people who have given up on living because of the fear of falling and experiencing so many health issues.
Now, balancing is a bit trickier than you might think. Typically, we don’t think consciously about balancing and falling throughout each day. But if you didn't try the Balancing Skills Test above, try standing on one leg for 30 seconds. Next, try closing your eyes and experience an increase in difficulty. Again, safety first! Be sure to stand near a counter or chair that you can hold onto if needed.
A study at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine showed that, after three months, older men and women who engaged in balancing exercises were able to regain a level of stability equal to someone three to 10 years younger. But we don’t have to wait until we’re older to begin to reap the benefits of balance training; studies of adolescent athletes demonstrate that balancing exercises not only improve measures of stability, but also protect against sports injuries, such as ankle sprains.
When practicing balance poses, remember, there’s nothing wrong if you need to sway a bit. There is no need to remain still like a statue. You are free to allow for gentle undulations and articulations with your toes, feet, and ankles as you create subtle movements to maintain balance. A good friend of mine taught me to focus and concentrate at a specific unmoving object. This simple technique has helped me to be able to gain more stability when doing my daily balance training.
If a pose feels easy, challenging yourself by closing your eyes — even just for a few blinks. The pose may feel much more difficult, but the more you do it, the better you'll get. I do this each time I cool down after working out each day with my yoga posses. I’ve found the addition of closing my eyes while in various posses has really increased my balancing abilities as I age.
This is the same Natarajasana (Dancer's Pose) as in the top picture, but done on the stable ground. Notice I'm usually barefooted, allowing my feet and entire body to experience the many benefits from walking without shoes.
A good way to work balance exercises into your life is to incorporate them into activities you do every day. Here are some of my favorite daily moves that I like to do...* I can't stress this enough! Please make sure you are safe at all times standing near a stable surface that you can grab onto if you start to fall!
1. In the morning while brushing my teeth, so that I don't fall into the sedentary life that many Americans are finding themselves in, and then as they age, finding that balance, coordination, and needed muscle strength in the core and legs are all weak areas in the body. I look for any possible way to move and workout my body no matter what I'm doing throughout each day. Including when I brush my teeth. I divide my teeth into 4 sections/quadrants. See picture below. When brushing my teeth, I start at the upper right quadrant, and brush the teeth in that area until I have completed 30 deep squats. Then I move to the upper left quadrant and repeat another 30 deep squats. Then continue to the bottom 2 quadrants. Doing 30 deep squats at each of the 4 quadrants while brushing each area thoroughly. ( 30 x 4 = 120) Each quadrant takes about 1 minute to complete 30 deep squats. So, it takes me about 4 minutes to brush my teeth! A fabulous use of time getting a thorough teeth cleaning and a great core, glutes, and leg workout that promotes strength and coordination as we age for better balance skills! Before going to bed, my nighttime dental routine finds me standing on one foot with the other foot raised off of the ground as I brush my teeth. I like to hold this pose for at least one minute as I brush the right side of my mouth, and then switch legs and brush the left side for at least another minute. Not only will this help to improve balance, but again, it also ensures that we spend sufficient time brushing…a healthier oral cavity as well as a stronger body and mind to keep our balance system in check! Always using our time wisely!💖
Doing my daily morning deep squats while brushing my teeth! Teaching my granddaughter, Claire, through my ongoing example of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and body at all times! It's fun and teaches our children that our health is our wealth!
Photo Credit (allheals.com)
2. Instead of sitting down to get dressed, I like to pull on my socks or pants, and dress my lower extremities while balancing on one foot. Do the same while drying each leg after a shower or while applying lotion.
3. One of my favorite ways to strengthen the balancing muscles is to assume the flat foot squat as often as possible throughout each day. Check out my blog 1 and blog 2, as well as our video 1 and video 2 on this important health topic as well. Whenever I eat, I do the flat foot squat, or rather than use a regular table to sit at, I have an oriental low table that I squat or sit at on Japanese cushions. This keeps me moving up and down from the floor all day which strengthens leg muscles, the entire core, back, pelvic floor, and is forcing me to get up and down from the floor throughout the day, which has been proven to be a key factor in longevity. Even when I teach my students at school, we all squat as much as possible to work so many areas of our body! When you clean your house, rather than bending down to pick up objects from the floor, you’ll use your quadricep muscles when squatting, remembering to keep your spine straight, tailbone down, and legs wide when you reintroduce this position to your arsenal of daily balancing moves. Practice squatting whenever you need to pick up something such as laundry baskets, grocery bags, toys, etc. Not only will your legs get stronger, but also your lower back and pelvic floor will thank you. Again, this actually promotes longevity by simply living more on the floor!
4. I can’t stress this enough! Spend time walking barefoot around your house and yard. While thick-soled shoes protect our feet, they also reduce the proprioceptive input your brain receives. A study in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society showed that walking barefoot on cobblestone mats improved balancing skills in older adults. Notice the picture of the cobblestone barefoot mat I have in my house. My entire family, including my granddaughter reap the many benefits of going barefoot! Reawaken the proprioceptors in your feet by walking barefoot on grass, sand, or even a gentle cobblestone path placed in your home!
My two year old granddaughter, Claire, my daughter, Rox, and my feet enjoying the wonderful various textures from the stones! Reawakening and stimulating those important nerves, bones, muscles, and ligaments on the bottom of our feet!
This is our indoor cobblestone foot playground texture path!
5. Incorporate new activities into your life. Anytime you're walking and moving your head around, you're stimulating the vestibular system, along with all of the other major body systems. Make time in your life for hiking, dancing, bicycling, swimming, or actively playing with your children, grandchildren, or pets.
The key is to start living! Turn off the TV, step away from the computer and social media, get plenty of rest, reduce stress, put in less time working and more time enjoying life in nature and with loved ones. Live as God designed us to live! Incorporate a healthier diet and lifestyle. All of these things will promote a healthier body, including a healthier balance system, and overall greater enjoyment as you live out the remainder of your life!
Thank you SO much for stopping by our website! Please share your thoughts and experiences on this topic, as we are all works in progress and we learn from each other! We value your comments! Take charge of your health destiny! 😊
Here's to your Health!💖