Home Age Health and Wellness: Balance! – Senior Planet from AARP

Health and Wellness: Balance! – Senior Planet from AARP

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Health and Wellness: Balance! – Senior Planet from AARP

You know balance is important: work/life balance, a balanced diet, and (hopefully) a balanced checkbook.

But what about your balance?

Balance and Aging

Balance declines with age, usually beginning after age 50, experts say. Lack of balance can increase your risk of falling and fracturing a bone. think it won’t happen to you?  Think again: one of four adults age 65 and up falls each year, the CDC says.


“Balance declines after age 50 due to a variety of reasons,” says Sonja Rosen, MD, professor of medicine and chief of geriatric medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles.

“Balance is affected by vision, the inner ear, and mechanical issues.” Once past 50, aging-related changes can occur in the vestibular system—a sensory system essential to normal movement and equilibrium, Rosen says. “Vision problems like cataracts and glaucoma can also lead to balance issues.”

Then there’s arthritis, which can throw people off balance, and the natural loss of muscle mass factors in, too. Some medications may have side effects that cause dizziness or other issues that could affect balance. That list is lengthy, including common drugs like antidepressants and blood pressure medicines. It’s smart to ask your pharmacist or doctor what precautions might apply to you.

How to Improve your Balance

The situation is far from hopeless. “It’s never too late to try to improve your balance,” says Kathy Doubleday, DPT, a physical therapist and clinical director for Physio Ed, a physical therapy education website for seniors. Her starting point: Move! “The less active you are, the more likely your balance will suffer,” she says.

Rosen agrees. “Get active!” she urges. “Exercise is the best way to combat this, including strength training at even younger ages [than 50 or 60]. The old adage ‘Use it or lose it’ rings very true for balance.”

A Balance Action Plan

  • First, here’s a fun balance test just to convince you it’s important.
  • Stay active, or get active again, if your health permits and your doctor agrees. Walk with a partner or in a community group, Doubleday suggests. Walking, biking and climbing stairs are all good ways to strengthen muscles in the lower body, helping balance, experts say. If you’re really feeling unbalanced, start with a recumbent bike or stair stepper.
  • Consider strength training. According to Mayo Clinic experts, strength training can build muscle, and that can improve balance and decrease the risk of falls. Check out this free online Strength Training Class on Jun 15.
  • Do at-home balance exercises. They can be simple ones, Doubleday says, such as testing how well you can shift your weight from one foot to the other. Here are 6 simple at-home balance exercises the American Physical Therapy Association suggests.
  • Find some balance classes or classes such as tai chi, which offers a series of challenges to improve balance. Senior Planet offers a free online Tai Chi class on Fridays.
  • Try an online balance class.  Mary P. Breyette, a senior fitness educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County, NY, teaches a Balance and Strength Class online for Senior Planet that’s completely free – and a nice virtual social outlet, too. To prepare for her class,  students gather their water bottles, dumbbells, soup cans or towels to use for resistance — and tune in early to socialize a bit. The goal of this online class, offered regularly, is to increase balance. It works, Breyette says, and she has a folder full of thank you notes from students to prove it. Often, the students tell her: “My doctor noticed a difference and asked what I was doing.” There’s also a Balance Matters online class on SeniorPlanet.org on Wednesdays.

Your turn:

What do you do to improve your balance? Have you tried any of the Senior Planet online classes – and did they work for you? Let us know in the comments!

Kathleen Doheny is a Los Angeles-based independent journalist, specializing in health, behavior, fitness and lifestyle stories. Besides writing for Senior Planet, she reports for WebMD, Medscape, Psycom.net,  Practical Pain Management, and other sites.  She is a mom, mother-in-law and proud and happy Mimi who likes to hike, jog and shop.

Doheny photo: Shaun Newton

This article offered by Senior Planet and Older Adults Technology Services is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency call 911 immediately.

Photo: Aziz Acharki for Unsplash

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