Balance is something we tend to take for granted in our earlier years. Unfortunately many older adults struggle with balance, preventing a completely independent life. As balance decreases, we may need to rely on walking aids, home additions such as rails and raised chairs, or having somebody assist with day to day tasks such as cleaning or dressing. Sadly, 30% of adults over the age of 65 experience at least one fall per year. This equates to over $600 million for acute care in Australian hospitals.

Thankfully, there are ways we can look to maintain and improve our balance. By actively maintaining balance as we age, we can continue to live independently and without limits.

Regular exercise and physical activity is one of the best ways we can maintain and develop balance, while simultaneously improving other aspects of our health. Regular exercise can help to maintain not only our nervous system, but our entire musculoskeletal system – both essential to good balance.

Our neural system is an important component of good balance because it allows our body to respond to different situations quickly, such as a poor or slippery surfaces. We can also respond to external cues quickly, such as somebody walking in front of us at the shops, or having to side step around something. Our neural system also helps to develop proprioception, knowing where our body is in space. This ensures we can adapt to different postures and positions to keep us upright.

Our musculoskeletal system is equally as important when considering balance. If we have a strong base, we will not only respond to imbalance quickly, we may be ability to hold ourselves up, pull ourselves from the ground or land more comfortably without the risk of fractures.

So how exactly can we improve our balance?

Regular exercise is the most effective way to improve balance. We can even see balance benefits with general movement! As a goal, we should aim for 20 minutes of movement per day, ideally a combination of resistance, cardiovascular and balance movements.

Resistance or strength based exercise is essential in maintaining and developing strong muscles and bones. Resistance based exercise can also improve our neural system and motor patterns. As discussed above, resistance training is essential in creating a stable base and reducing the risk of fracture. Cardiovascular exercise such as walking can help our body to be more confident on our feet, improve proprioception through the ankles and improve our ability to move confidently. Finally, balance exercises. Specific balance exercises have the ability to train both the neural and musculoskeletal system and should be done in a safe environment (especially if you are at risk of falls).

Quite simply, by moving each day in a safe environment, you have the ability to improve and maintain balance! These exercises can be done at home, or under the guidance of an Exercise Physiologist.

The main thing to remember is that if you continue to move as you age, you are more likely to enjoy an independent, healthy life!



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