Balance is the awareness of body position and the ability to distribute weight in order to remain upright. Young people have few problems maintaining balance on the playground or the athletic field, but as people age, balance weakens. This can result in falls and injuries in later life. In fact, 30 to 50 percent of people over the age of 65 suffer at least one fall, some never fully recovering. Fortunately, four healthy habits can help improve balance and enhance fitness levels throughout life.
1. Stand on one leg.
The beauty of this exercise is its convenience. You can do it on your coffee break or while you're watching television. You can do it while standing in line at the post office or store. Shoot for about 45 seconds on each side, and when you have mastered that, try it with your eyes closed—but have something to hold onto if you try doing it with your eyes closed.
2. Practice tai chi or yoga.
Tai chi and yoga offer big benefits for balance as people age. Studies show that people in their mid-60s who practice tai chi score in the 90th percentile on measures of balance and stability according to American Fitness Standards. A study from Temple University showed that women 65 years of age and older who took yoga classes twice a week showed better ankle stability and reported more confidence in walking. Because 22 percent of people 65 and older have a fear of falling, confidence in walking makes a big difference when it comes to quality of life.
3. Build strong legs with squats.
Few healthy habits enhance mobility and balance like squats. Connective tissue and nerve endings deteriorate with age, and doing squats helps rebuild muscle memory by improving communication between the muscles and the brain. To perform a basic squat:
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and clasp your hands in front of your body, about 12 inches from your chest.
- Keeping your back straight and abdominal muscles tight, lower your body slowly (as if sitting) until legs are parallel to the floor.
- Hold for five seconds.
- Pressing the heels into the floor, rise slowly until standing.
- Perform two or three sets of ten repetitions each, resting about 90 seconds in between sets. (Hold onto the back of a chair in front of you for increased stability.)
4. Get a good night's sleep.
Studies show that sleep deprivation slows reaction time, which affects balance. Additional research conducted at California Pacific Medical Center found a link between sleep deprivation and falls. The study examined almost 3,000 aging females and found that those getting less than seven hours of nightly sleep were more likely to fall than women getting more sleep. Healthy habits that contribute to a good night's sleep include a regular sleeping/waking schedule; a warm bath or a cup of chamomile tea; and avoidance of television, cellphones and computers before bedtime. Supplements like melatonin can help.
A large percentage of people over the age of 65 fall every year due to diminished balance. An injury caused by a fall can result in lost independence, related illness and early death. The healthy living tips listed above can help improve balance, lower risks for falling and enhance fitness levels for years to come.