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Bone Loss: Exercise for Preventing and Managing Osteoporosis

Posted by Jill Derryberry on May 31, 2023 2:53:57 PM

 

According to The Mayo Clinic, “Osteoporosis occurs when the creation of new bone doesn't keep up with the loss of old bone.”  Osteoporosis is a bone disease where bone mineral density is reduced.  It most commonly occurs in women over the age of 50, but it can affect anyone.  It causes bones to become brittle which increases the risk of fractures.  Our bones not only support our body’s structure, but they also protect vital organs, play a role in blood cell production, our immune system, the storage of calcium, the release of essential hormones, among other functions.   

 

Our bones are made of living tissue and mainly contain bone marrow, cartilage, membranes, nerves, blood vessels and three different types of cells.  Like other cells in our body, the cells in our bones are constantly being broken down and subsequently replaced.  This process in our bones is called bone remodeling or bone-rebuilding.  The bone remodeling process allows the body to repair broken bones, reshape the bones as we grow, and regulate calcium levels.  Many factors contribute to bone remodeling.  Some of these factors are the parathyroid hormone, vitamin D, estrogen, and testosterone.  This bone remodeling process of breaking down old bone and increasing our bone mass when new bone is made, slows down as we age.  The process starts to slow as early as our 30’s and as we continue to age it’s possible that bone mass is lost faster than new mass can be created.   

 

Risk Factors for Osteoporosis Can Include: 

 

  • Low calcium levels 
  • Vitamin D deficiency 
  • Smoking tobacco 
  • Using corticosteroids 
  • Estrogen deficiencies (common during menopause) 
  • Family history of osteoporosis/Genetic factors 
  • Age (risk increases after 50) 
  • Having an inactive lifestyle 
  • Body frame size (men and women who have small body frames tend to have less bone mass to draw from as they age) 

 

This is not a complete list of the potential causes of osteoporosis, but it can help us identify ways to help maintain or increase our bone mineral density and let us know who might be most at risk.   

 

How do you know if you have osteoporosis? 

 

There are no typical symptoms in the early stages of bone mineral density loss.  Once you have osteoporosis, you might experience signs like; back pain (caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra), loss of height over time, a stooped posture or a bone that breaks easily.   

 

A bone density test is the only way for doctors to determine if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia.  Osteopenia is a loss of bone mineral density, which means your bones are weaker but not yet to the point of osteoporosis which is a more severe loss of bone mineral density (bones are brittle or almost brittle).  There are not usually any symptoms of osteopenia.  It may be helpful to know if your bones have weakened to this point so you can work with your doctor to determine a treatment plan to prevent it from worsening to osteoporosis.   

 

How to prevent osteoporosis? 

 

To help prevent osteoporosis, Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests; limiting alcohol consumption, stopping smoking if you smoke, consuming adequate amounts of calcium and Vitamin D as well as having an adequate protein and vegetable intake.  They also mention that weight bearing exercise can help build strong bones and slow bone loss.   

 

Just like our muscles break down under stress (like resistance training) and then repair themselves to become stronger, our bones have a similar process.  If a bone comes under increased stress over time, for example during weight bearing exercise, the parts of the bone under the most pressure will become thicker over time.  Exercise helps maintain or increase bone density no matter when you start, but if you start exercising regularly when you are young and continue throughout your life you will reap the most benefits. 

 

Exercising with Osteoporosis 

 

If you have osteoporosis or osteopenia, ask your doctor or physical therapist before starting a new exercise routine about what exercises are right for you.   

 

In general, with osteoporosis, it is recommended to avoid excessive bending or twisting of the spine and to be careful of high impact activities like running or jumping.   

 

In 2022, the British Journal of Sports Medicine (2022; 56 [15]) published exercise guidelines for people with osteoporosis.  A multidisciplinary group of experts met in 2017 to create these guidelines based on their review of research and expert opinions.  They wanted to clear up any uncertainty about what types of exercise and how much physical activity are safe and effective in individuals with osteoporosis.  We know that physical activity and exercise can optimize bone strength, reduce fall, and fracture risk but they wanted to create these guidelines to be more specific on the type and duration of exercise as well as how to minimize any potential risks of exercise.   

 

They concluded the following recommendations for all people with osteoporosis: 

 

  1. Those at risk of falls should start with targeted strength and balance training. 
  1. Perform resistance training 2-3 days a week to maintain bone strength.  Start at 8-12 reps of each exercise, building up to three sets.  Begin with lower intensity exercises to ensure good technique before increasing intensity. 
  1. Target all muscle groups but especially focus on the back to promote a healthy spine. 
  1. Spread physical activity throughout the day to avoid prolonged sitting. 
  1. Include impact exercise 4-7 days a week (like jumping 3-5 sets of 10-20 jumps with 1-2 minutes of rest between sets). 
  1. Avoid movements involving a high degree of spinal flexion (in both exercising and in daily life). 

 

They also found that “There is little evidence that physical activity is associated with significant harm, and the benefits, in general, outweigh the risks.” 

 

Activities that can help prevent bone loss, maintain bone density and are safe for those with osteoporosis: 

 

  • Weight bearing aerobic activities – activities on your feet with your bones supporting your weight.  Examples include walking, dancing, low impact aerobics, elliptical machines, and stair climbing. 

 

  • Strength training – including using dumbbells, resistance bands or your own body weight to strengthen all major muscle groups.   

 

An example of a full body strength training routine that’s great for beginners: 

 

Complete 10-12 repetitions of each exercise before moving to the next.  Then repeat each exercise three more times, resting in between each set. 

 

  1. Squat – Start with your feet shoulder width apart.  Bend your knees as you shift your hips back, keeping your back straight and leaning partly forward.  Squeeze your glute muscles and return to a standing position. 
  1. Push Up – Put your hands slightly more than shoulder width apart on the floor (or if a beginner, on a countertop or wall).  Bend your elbows and bring your chest toward the floor (or other surface) keeping your body in a straight line and all moving together. 
  1. Standing on One Leg – Have a sturdy piece of furniture nearby in case you need to grab something for balance.  Stand on one leg for as long as possible – up to a minute.  Repeat with the other leg.   
  1. Side Leg Lifts – Start with your feet hip-width apart.  Shift your weight to your left foot.  Flex your right foot and keep your right leg straight as you lift it to the side.  Bring the right leg down then repeat the lift on the right leg 10-12 times then switch to the other side. 

 

Good nutrition and regular exercise are essential for keeping your bones healthy throughout your life.  Regardless of age or osteoporosis risk or osteoporosis status, exercise has a positive impact on strength, mobility, and bone density in addition to improving overall health. It’s never too late to start.  Regular exercise can help to prevent and even reverse some bone loss.  It also can improve balance and flexibility which is key for preventing falls which are the most common reason for bone fractures.   

Walking For Fitness

Posted by Jill Derryberry on Apr 25, 2023 12:44:13 PM

 

Think walking isn’t a great workout? Think again! While it isn’t as intense as some forms of exercise, research shows that walking regularly has many benefits, including:

 

  • reduced risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, and certain cancers
  • improved mood
  • reduced stress
  • improved cardiovascular fitness
  • boosting energy
  • maintaining a healthy weight or weight loss.

 

How often, for how long, and how intensely should you walk to see benefits?

 

Engaging in a physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day is a good general goal and is recommended by the National Institute of Health. It doesn’t have to be all at once. Taking 3 or 4 ten-minute walking breaks throughout your day counts! Any activity is better than none at all. Start slowly if you haven't been exercising regularly. You might start with five minutes a day the first week, and then increase your time by five minutes each week until you reach at least 30 minutes.

To get the most heart health benefits from your walking workout, make sure you are elevating your heart rate. A general calculation to estimate your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. Then calculate 60% - 80% of your maximum heart rate. That will be your heart rate zone percentage where you should be in your workout. Please note this will vary from person to person and things like medication and stress can affect your heart rate and make it unlikely to get an accurate reading of your heart rate and intensity using method.   Your heart rate can be monitored on a fitness tracker watch or you can go by the talk test. When using the talk test to gauge the intensity of your workout, aim to be out of breath enough that you don’t want to talk too much because you are working hard. But don’t go so fast that you can’t talk or are completely out of breath.

10,000 steps is a number commonly used as a daily step goal. There isn’t research to support this number as having any significance for our health. The number is believed to have started when in 1965, a Japanese company made a pedometer named Manop-kei, which translates to “10,000 steps meter.” 10,000 is a figure that is easy to remember and was used as a marketing tool then and still is as it has become the number we think of most often when we think of daily steps. 10,000 steps add up to over 5 miles and is difficult for most individuals to get each day. The good news is that many studies show that taking 4,000 - 8,000 steps a day has many health benefits. One of those studies is a study done by Dr. I-Min Lee, an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. The researchers gave step tracking devices to 16,741 women with an average age of 72. They found that women who averaged 4,400 daily steps had a 41% reduction in mortality. Mortality rates progressively improved before leveling off at approximately 7,500 steps per day.

A study in JAMA showed that the intensity (speed) of your steps may not matter as much as getting more steps per day. They found, as other studies have also confirmed, that a greater number of steps per day were associated with lower risk of all-cause mortality. Don’t let your speed deter you from walking more.

10,000 steps a day is still something good to strive for.   However, don’t be discouraged by that number if you don’t hit it each day, remember you benefit from increasing your step count from whatever it may be at this time. Aiming for 8,000 steps a day is also a good target and is supported by research as being a good daily minimum number of steps. There are many inexpensive pedometers available to help you track your steps if that is something that motivates you. Apple watches and Fitbit devices are other popular ways to keep track of your steps. I wrote more about Fitness Trackers in an earlier blog post.

What do you need to know about walking for fitness?

 

Walking is a safe form of exercise for just about everyone. Even those with knee pain. A study found that the participants (aged 50 or older with osteoarthritis in their knees) who reported walking for exercise were 40 percent less likely to develop new frequent knee pain over the course of several years, compared with those who didn’t walk regularly. Researchers say further research is needed but, the results suggest that habitual exercise might help protect arthritic knees from becoming more painful.

 

Little equipment is needed to walk. All you need are shoes. Having a good pair of shoes that are right for your feet is important to help prevent any potential injuries or pain. Wear shoes that offer the amount of support you need. If you aren’t sure, head to a local running store to find shoes that work for your foot, stride, etc. The Runners Forum is a great locally owned store in the Indianapolis area with several locations around the city. It’s not just for runners, they can help you find the right shoe for you for walking as well.

 

Walking can be done just about anywhere! If the weather isn't appropriate for walking outside, come to LivRite and walk on one of the treadmills. Or consider walking in a shopping mall that offers open times for walkers or an indoor track at a gym or school. Walking inside your home is also an option with many online walking videos.   Check out a Leslie Sansone DVD from the library or find a walking workout on YouTube.

 

Think walking is boring? Can’t keep a habit of daily walks? Here are a few suggestions to help you enjoy a walk on a more regular basis:

 

  1. Add Intervals. Alternating bouts of slower walking with a faster brisk pace can make your walk feel more like a workout, burn more calories and be great for your heart. If you’d like to transition to running, starting out with adding a minute of running several times throughout your walk is a great way to start. Here’s an example of an interval walking workout: Walk at an easy pace for five minutes then speed up to a more moderate pace. Then start a one-minute burst – walk faster or begin a slow jog. After one minute, return to a moderate pace for three minutes. Repeat these intervals a few times and then finish with a five-minute cool down at an easy pace.  

 

  1. Call a Friend. Ask a friend to join you, a walk is a great way to catch up or spend time with a friend or family member. If the friend can’t meet in person, catch up on the phone while you walk. Pacing around the house while on calls counts too.

 

  1. Try an audio-based book or podcast or listen to music. Pairing a podcast or book that you really want to listen to with a walk is a great motivator to maintain a walking habit. If you can only listen to that book or podcast while you walk, or only watch a show you want to watch if you are walking on the treadmill, you might be more likely to do it.

 

A Walking Plan

 

If you haven’t been active, start with two to three walks a week up to 10 minutes. Each week add 2 to 3 minutes to your walk and as it feels easier, add another day. Slowly increase your time and the number of days you are walking as your stamina grows. Aim to walk 3 to 4 miles per hour. Walking 30 minutes a day is a great goal to strive for.

 

Walking is an excellent way to improve or maintain your health. It can be done just about anywhere, with little equipment or expense. There are plenty of ways to increase the intensity of a walking workout when you need it and ways to mix it up to keep you from getting bored. Walking most days of the week along with strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week, is a great fitness plan. Need help? Have questions? Don’t hesitate to ask a LivRite trainer for a free fitness assessment.

How to slow down the affects of aging

Posted by Jill Derryberry on Mar 30, 2023 10:44:49 AM

 

Getting older. It’s a common topic and something many people are fighting against. As soon as someone starts to experience aches and pains, they may accept it and write it off as “getting old”. Many expect move more slowly, have more pain and to have physical limitations as they age and think there is nothing to be done to help or slow down this inevitable fate.

 

It is true there are some things we can’t control in the aging process. Our bodies will change. While we can’t stop ourselves from aging completely, there are some things we can do to slow down the effects of aging and to minimize or even reverse some of the slow down and ailments that might occur as we grow older. These controllable factors include your daily habits and lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle is the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth.

 

What are some of the naturally occurring effects of aging?

 

  1. Aerobic Endurance Slows

Our V02 max naturally decreases as we age and if we are not performing cardiovascular exercise. This is the body’s ability to use oxygen. When your V02 max decreases, your body cannot use as much of the oxygen that is breathed in, which limits muscle output and cardiovascular function. That means you will get breathless quickly and tire faster.

 

  1. Max Heart Rate Declines

As we get older, our maximum (max) heart rate lowers. A max heart rate is the upper limit of heart beats per minute that your body can safely sustain. You can calculate a rough estimate of your max heart rate with this formula from the American Heart Association: 220 - [your age] = estimated max heart rate. This can decrease how intensely you are able to exercise.

 

Also, with time your heart beats at a lower rate per minute. When your heart beats, it pumps a specific volume of oxygenated blood away from your heart to be used by your body – including your muscles. With fewer beats per minute, it means there is less oxygenated blood in your muscles which means they fatigue faster and more easily.

 

  1. Hormones Change

Hormones play a role for both men and women in the changes that occur as we grow older.   Just one of these changes is that testosterone and estrogen levels naturally decrease starting in our 30’s and can reduce lean muscle mass. Less muscle mass affects our ability to move and complete daily tasks and changes our body composition. Less muscle also affects our balance – read more about that and other aspects of age-related physical changes in my last post all about balance.

 

The good news is there are things we can do to limit the effects of aging on our daily lives and that is through our lifestyle. Research has shown that we can affect the length of our telomeres (the protein structures that are found at the ends of chromosomes that cap and protect our genes) through healthier lifestyle choices. A direct relationship has been shown between telomere length and life expectancy, DNA damage and age-related diseases. Dysfunctional telomeres are risk factors for adverse health conditions and may accelerate the progression of age-related disorders. The longer our telomeres, the risk is reduced for the development of cancer, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory diseases, and premature aging.

 

So how do we lengthen and protect our telomeres, thus slowing down the age related physical slow down?  

 

  1. Sleep

Sleep has been shown to be important for our health at every age. Experts recommend 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. Studies also show it affects the length of our telomeres. One example is a study where researchers found that men with shorter sleep duration had shorter telomeres.

 

Some ways to improve your sleep would be to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning – even the weekends. Shutting down devices at least an hour before bed, having the bedroom temperature at 65 degrees, and having less caffeine (especially later in the day) could also help.

 

  1. A Healthy Diet

The Mediterranean way of eating has been repeatedly shown to be the “best diet” for health and longevity. It focuses on eating real, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, olive oil, herbs, and spices. Fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt are also included in moderation. The fish and seafood provide omega-3 fats which are especially important in reducing inflammation and improving insulin resistance.

 

A healthy diet limits sugary and highly processed foods. One study found an association between sugar-sweetened soda consumption and shorter telomeres. Just another reason to avoid drinking soda!

 

A study in the Archives of Medical Science showed a positive association of vitamin D in the length of telomeres. Vitamin D is an important nutrient that many don’t get enough of. It’s a good idea to have your health care provider check to see if you are deficient as it can affect many aspects of your health.   Some foods contain vitamin D, like some types of salmon, mushrooms, sardines, and eggs but it can be difficult to get all the vitamin D that you need from food. Moderate sunlight exposure can also up your vitamin D intake. In general, 15 minutes of unprotected (no sunscreen) time in the sun can give you all the vitamin D you may need. (Don’t forget to put on sunscreen after that if you will be out in the sun longer!)

 

  1. Exercise

Both aerobic exercise and strength training are important to stay healthy at any age but also to combat signs of aging. Strength training will help to minimize or reverse the natural loss of bone density and muscle as we age. Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise keeps our V02 Max higher which means we won’t tire as easily on a walk or while playing with grandkids for example. It also can increase or maintain the length of our telomers. A study done in the UK showed that as little as 10 minutes of brisk walking a day was associated with longer telomeres and reduced signs of aging.

 

  1. Stress Reduction

Several studies have linked chronic stress to shorter telomeres. One such study compared healthy women who were mothers of healthy children (the control moms) and those who cared for chronically ill children (caregiving mothers). On average, the caregiving mothers had telomeres that were 10 years shorter than the control moms. That is, their cells behaved as if one decade older.

 

Stress is part of everyday life but typically the response to the stress from our Central Nervous System (CNS) will dissipate about 90 minutes after the stressful event. Chronic stress is when our bodies stay in that “flight or fight” response from the CNS. That means we have heightened levels of stress hormones in our bodies which have numerous negative effects on our health, among them contributing to the shortening of our telomeres and aging.

 

Experiment with things that will help reduce your stress. Take the time to do what makes you feel better and bring you joy. Mindfulness, yoga, and meditation have all proven to reduce stress. Taking time to enjoy a hobby, getting regular exercise, connecting with friends, and listening to music are all examples of things that could help lessen your stress response.  

 

Your habits and lifestyle can make a difference in how your body ages. Slowing down aging isn’t about rejecting the idea of getting older, it’s about improving the quality of your life for the rest of your years. Not necessarily about adding years to your life but adding life to your years.

 

"Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be." Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Topics: LivRite News

5 Fitness Myths – Common Misconceptions and The Truth

Posted by Jill Derryberry on Mar 14, 2023 3:39:35 PM

5 Fitness Myths – Common Misconceptions and The Truth

 

Health, fitness, and wellness are popular topics. That is a wonderful thing, but unfortunately, it leads to an overwhelming amount of information available online, on tv, in magazines and especially social media. With so much stuff out there, it is sometimes difficult to tell what is true and what isn’t. It’s been a while since I’ve written about some of the common misconceptions when it comes to health and fitness. If you want to check out my last post about fitness myths, you can find it here.

 

MYTH #1: You should exercise every day.

 

This is a tricky one! You shouldn’t exercise intensely every day (and you don’t need to in order to see benefits). Current guidelines say, “To attain the most health benefits from physical activity, adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking or fast dancing, each week. Adults also need muscle-strengthening activity, like lifting weights or doing push-ups, at least 2 days each week.”

 

How many days a week you work out depends on what kind of exercise you are doing. For strength training, muscle groups need a day to recover in between sessions. If you want to strength train every day, or on consecutive days, then it is best to break down your weight workouts into splits. This means you will use weights to work one part of your body one day and then work different muscles the next. For example, work your legs on Monday and then upper body on Tuesday. Or push muscles on one day then pull muscles on the next. For our muscles to get stronger, they need time (48 hours) after being worked to repair and heal. That rest time is what makes them stronger and helps to prevent injuries. Most studies show that working each muscle group 2-3 times a week is sufficient. If your workout is a less intense exercise like walking, it is safe to do every day.

 

For some, keeping a habit like exercise is easier if it is done every day. Then there is no question if you are going to do it today or tomorrow, you have time carved out for a workout each day. In this case it is important you plan your workouts so that each day isn’t an intense HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) session or working the same muscle groups with resistance. Overtraining is a real possibility if you overdo it. Excess fatigue and unusual muscle aches and pains are two possible signs of overtraining and that you need a break. Daily workouts should vary in intensity and type to help prevent overtraining and burnout. I like to alternate between cardio and strength days for my workouts. I also recommend one day a week of either complete rest, an easy yoga or stretch session or a low intensity walk.

 

MYTH #2: You can choose where on your body that you want to lose fat.

 

As a trainer, many of the people I work with want to do extra exercises for their abdominal muscles because they want to reduce the size of their waist or stomach. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Abdominal exercises, like crunches and sit ups, target the abdominal muscles, not any fat that may be near them. The body loses fat from where it wants to lose fat first based on your genetics and other health factors (i.e., hormones). You can’t control where the fat loss happens and doesn’t happen. However, you can work to lose body fat overall by consuming fewer calories than you are burning. Strength training also helps because the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn even at rest.

 

Please note: This does not mean you shouldn’t do ab exercises! A strong core is important for many reasons including reduced lower back pain, improved posture, injury prevention.

 

MYTH #3: In order to lose weight, you must cut out all carbs.

 

Aren’t you glad this is a myth? You can eat carbohydrates (carbs) and lose weight. The key to weight loss is consuming fewer calories than you burn. It is beneficial to consume healthy foods that will keep you satisfied and fuller longer for your overall health and to help maintain a healthy weight. But many studies show that for weight loss, the type of diet (i.e. high protein vs. low-carb vs. low-fat) doesn’t really matter, it is the number of calories consumed. Some carbs should be eaten less and in moderation since they provide little nutritional value and cause your blood sugar to spike and then quickly crash causing you to become hungry again quickly and most likely to eat more. (Think white bread, pasta, or baked goods) Other carbs, sometimes called complex carbs, should be a bigger part of our diet because they are very nutritious and full of fiber that will keep us fuller longer and not cause a quick rise in blood sugar. (Like whole grains and vegetables) We need a mix of all three macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats) to have a healthy diet.

 

This review found that there is no one size fits all weight loss program that works for everyone. Many of the diet plans out there will work if you stick with them. The key is finding the right one that you can live with. The bottom line, if people eat a diet composed mostly of healthy foods within their allotted calories, the ratio of carbohydrates, protein and fats may not matter as much as we’re led to believe.

 

MYTH #4: Squats are bad for your knees.

 

A basic squat is a great exercise that works several major muscle groups in the lower body including the glutes, hamstrings (back of the legs), and quads (front of the legs). It’s a functional movement which not only helps with strength we need for everyday activities, but it also improves mobility and stability. A squat done with proper form will strengthen your knees in that it will strengthen the muscles that support the knees thus reducing potential knee injury and pain.

 

If you already have a knee injury or pain from something like arthritis in your knee, it is best to talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine that involves squats. Since performing a squat involves sinking down into the knees, it may be painful for some people with existing issues in this area. Working with a personal trainer can be helpful in this situation because they can give you tips on form and modifications to reduce any pain.

 

MYTH #5: Machines are better than free weights. Or vice versa – Free weights are better than machines.

 

This is another tricky one! In fact I wrote an entire post about this subject. This is a myth – there is not one that is better than the other and both are good. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of weight training. It boils down to your fitness level, your fitness goals and what you have available.

 

The biggest factor to increase your strength is to progressively increase the amount of weight resistance applied to your muscles, no matter the equipment that is being used. Some great workout routines will utilize both free weights and weight machines. Whichever method you will do regularly and works with your current fitness level is the best for you.

 

Don’t believe everything you read or see on social media. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do your research and check the credentials of the person or organization where the information is coming from. Try not to let the overwhelming amount of information about health and fitness keep you from starting or keeping an exercise routine. Stick to the basics and ask for help from a trained professional if you need it!

 

 

 

Topics: LivRite News

Better Balance: The Importance of Maintaining and Improving Balance

Posted by Jill Derryberry on Jan 20, 2023 1:52:21 PM

 Merriam-Webster has quite a few definitions of the word balance.  But the first one, and the one we will be using in this post, is this: 

1a 

: physical equilibrium 

trouble keeping your balance on a sailboat 

lost his balance and fell 

a boxer kept off balance for a whole round 

b 

: the ability to retain one's balance 

Gymnasts must have a good sense of balance. 

 

Basically, balance is when your weight is evenly distributed in a way where you can stand or move and not fall or catch yourself if you trip so that you do not fall.  There are many components to good balance.   The central nervous system, inner ear, eyes, muscles, bones, and joints all play a part in our balance.   

 

Having good balance is important for everyone as falls can cause serious injuries at any age.  However, many factors make balance more difficult for older adults and any subsequent falls more serious.  The CDC reports that one in four of those 65 and older fall each year and one out of every five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury.  Working to maintain our ability to balance as we age is extremely important for our safety and if we don’t keep working on it, we will lose that ability.   

 

You can test your balance.  Try standing on one leg and time yourself.  (Be sure to have something stable nearby in case you need it to steady yourself).  Can you hold that one legged position for at least 10 seconds?   A study that was released in 2021 in the BMJ, showed that being able to balance on one leg for 10-seconds can predict a longer life.   Out of the 1,700 older adults in the study, 20% of them could not balance on one leg for 10-seconds or more.  They found that not being able to balance for at least 10-seconds was associated with a twofold risk of death from any cause within 10 years.  This is just an association, not a causation, but still data suggesting how important balance is for our health.   

 

What Impacts Our Balance? 

 

Because there are many factors at work to provide our body with balance, there are quite a few things that can cause unbalance.   

 

Some medical conditions can affect a person’s balance.  Disorders that affect the central nervous system like stroke, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease can impact one’s ability to balance.   

 

Anything that impacts the inner ear’s vestibular system also affects balance.  Vertigo might be the most often heard of problem in the inner ear.  Even a cold can cause temporary disruption of your inner ear balance.  Also, the nerve cells that make up our vestibular system decrease with age which is one of the reasons older adults struggle more with balance issues.  When the tiny structures in this system are damaged in any way, dizziness is likely along with feelings of being unsteady.  Age related changes to the inner ear structures is a common cause of balance issues in seniors.   

 

Vision is another important part of our ability to balance.  Being able to see what is around helps to stay steady and on our feet.  Eye problems such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration can all affect one’s physical stability.  This is an easy thing to confirm, try standing on one foot with your eyes closed versus with your eyes open.  Big difference!   

 

Certain medications and alcohol can also impact our balance. 

 

Any limitations to range of motion will potentially cause asymmetrical movements and in turn potential balance problems.   

 

Nerves called proprioceptors tell the brain about changes in conditions that call for bodily adjustments.  If our muscles and tendons are weak, stiff, or slow, we won’t be able to react as fast as needed, or at all to avoid a fall.  Our muscle tone starts to diminish as early as our mid-thirties, so it is important to do strength training exercises to preserve (and/or gain) muscle.   

 

How to Improve Balance 

 

Despite it being normal for balance to diminish with age, there are things to do to improve or maintain it.  A study published in BMJ revealed that balance training for older adults reduced the risk of injurious falls by 43 percent and the risk of falls resulting in fractures by 61 percent. 

 

Balance training consists of strengthening the muscles of the core, increasing (or maintaining) flexibility, having good posture, and boosting endurance.  Things that should be part of everyone’s wellness routine!  There are many ways to perform balance training.  Tai Chi and Yoga are popular ways to improve flexibility and balance.  Many exercises using only bodyweight (no equipment) can help balance and resistance training can improve balance by strengthening core muscles.  The stronger the muscles in your legs, glutes, feet and abdominals, the better your balance.   

 

Having better posture keeps our center of gravity over our feet, not pitching forward, which helps to keep us from falling.  Throughout the day think of sitting or standing tall, lifting your chest, and rolling your shoulders up then back and down.  

 

Exercises to Help Improve Balance 

 

Many balance exercises do not require any equipment.  All the moves below can be done at the gym or at home.  Try these exercises 2 – 3 times a week.   Gradually increase the duration of the exercises as you get stronger.  As with any new workout program, check with your doctor first before starting new activity.   

 

Balance Exercises for Those with Unsteady Balance: 

 

1. Sit to Stand – Sit in a firm chair then stand, then carefully sit back down.  Cross your arms at your chest or hold them straight out in front of you throughout the exercise.  Repeat 10 times.   

2. Calf Raises – Stand behind your chair, holding on to the back of the chair, and lift your heels raising up onto your toes, then lower your heels back to the floor. Repeat 10 times. 

3. Side Leg Lifts – Stand behind your chair, holding on to the back of the chair, and lift one leg out to the side then bring your leg back in.  Perform 10 repetitions per side. 

 

 

Balance Exercises for Those with Better Balance: 

 

1. Heel to Toe– Focus on a spot ahead of you.  Stand with your feet heel to toe and hold the position from five to 30 seconds.  Switch feet and repeat.  Repeat up to 5 times.  As this gets easier, add a walk.  Start with your feet heel to toe then bring your back foot in front of the other and so on walking forward and then back at a slow and controlled pace. 

2. One Leg Stand – Practice standing with only one foot on the floor, holding the opposite foot up and hold for five to 30 seconds.  Switch feet and repeat.  Repeat up to 5 times. 

3. Braiding – Stand up straight with your feet together.  Cross your left foot in front of your right foot then step out with your right foot and cross behind with your left foot.  Continue this for 10 steps to the right, then bring your feet together and then do 10 steps to the other side crossing your right foot in front of your left.   

 

Having the ability to balance is an important part of our health and wellness.  The good news is that it is never too late to work on and improve our balance.  There are things we can do to keep our balance or get it back!  If you aren’t sure what to do or want some help, ask a LivRite trainer today!   

 

Watch for videos for these balance training exercises on our Instagram page @livriteindy – Follow us there!   

Topics: LivRite News