When we think of fitness, we usually think about cardiovascular activities such as running and jogging, weight training for strength and stretches for flexibility.
However there’s one fitness skill that is vital for our health and wellbeing, yet it can easily be overlooked. This is balance.
Poor balance can impact our wellbeing, causing loss of confidence and independence, as well as injuries.
Many of us don’t even realise that we have poor balance until an unexpected injury or accidental fall challenges us. Yet this essential skill can decline from the age of 30 onwards. Like many other skills, unless we practice and maintain balance, we can lose it.
The fact is, 1 in 3 Australians over the age of 65 will fall each year, commonly causing fractures to the hip and thigh, or the skull. Disturbingly, falls cause more injury-related deaths in Australia than fatal vehicle crash incidents.(1)
Fortunately, balance can be improved and maintained. It’s never too late – or too early – to be proactive about building better balance.
Firstly it is helpful to understand how we balance.
Our balance is affected by 3 main sensory cues, including:
• visual cues (what we see);
• vestibular cues (the semi circular canals in this inner ear process information as we move) and
• somotosensory cues (feedback from the ankle, knee, spine and neck joints).
The issue is that as we age, it can be more difficult to balance and recover from falls, as our ability to process information and cues may deteroriate, and our reflexes may be slower.
So how can we ensure we improve and maintain our ability to balance – and decrease the risk of future falls and injuries?
Chiropractors can assess, diagnose and treat the nervous system of the body, which affects every function of the body, including balance. In fact, a recent study indicated that just 12 weeks of Chiropractic care may be beneficial for seniors, improving overall health, proprioception and cognitive abilities, which all reduce the risk of falls as well as impact quality of life.(2)
This study found that Chiropractic care resulted in a 13.5% improvement in multisensory processing. This means that their ability to integrate information or “multitask” was improved – essential for good balance and coordination.(3)
Pilates is also excellent for improving balance, coordination, and agility. It may be helpful for building bone strength which is important for seniors who may be at risk of falls.
A study cited in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity showed that a group of older participants who participated in a short period of Pilates training maintained balance skills after one year and continued to improve their ability to balance with further training.(4)
Attending a Clinical Pilates studio with the guidance of a qualified instructor can be a rewarding way to experience real progress in balance skills, in a supportive environment. Instructors may use studio equipment and a variety of exercise props to challenge control, cooordination and stability, which are all vital components of balance.
Balance is something we may not normally pay much attention to in our fitness program, but it improves every aspect of our lives, by giving us the confidence to enjoy a more active and independent life – at every age.
.1. AIHW: Bradley, C. (2013) Trends in Hospitalisations due to falls by older people, Australia 1999-00 to 2010-11, Injury Research and Statistics no. 84. cat. no. INJCAT 160. Canberra: AIHW.
.2. Holt, Kelly R et al, 2016 “Effectiveness of Chropractic Care to Improve Sensorimotor Function Associated with Falls Risk in Older People: A Randomized Controlled Trial” Journal of Manipulative and Phsyiological Therapeutics.
.3.Australian Spinal Research website: https://spinalresearch.com.au/chiropractic-care-falls-prevention-older-people/
.4. Bird ML, Fell J, (2013) Positive long-term effects of Pilates exercise on the aged-related decline in balance and strength in older, community-dwelling men and women. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity