Remember when we were kids, when jumping, twirling, climbing were done with ease and were a natural part of every day living? So what happened between then and now?
One answer may be that our balance systems have become diminished as a natural consequence of aging. What are these systems (there are three of them) and how can we work to improve them for better balance for life?
The vestibular system
Our Vestibular system is located in the inner ear and identifies the position of our head relative to movement such as tilting and twirling. If your vestibular system is impaired, you may find yourself confusing upside down with right-side up and stillness with motion. Dizziness is usually the result and swaying is the body’s outward response to this issue.
The somatonsensory system
The second balance system, and arguably the most correctable, is the Somatosensory system. This system provides information to your brain from touch and vibration. Our motor control depends upon this information to correctly move our bodies. Someone who experiences peripheral neuropathy (loss of sensation in your lower legs and feet) will experience extreme balance issues.
Our musculoskeletal system – our muscles and joints – is a subset of the Somatosensory system. Improvements in ROM (range of motion) and strength are critical to combating balance issues. Loss of muscle mass as we age (60 year olds and older, can lose a 1 percent a year) can be prevented if we add some resistance training to our fitness routine. In addition, repetitive balance moves and agility training for good reaction time also help to prevent falls.
There are certain key muscles that help with our balance. Think about getting suddenly pushed with no warning – our body springs into action. Our ankles respond first, then our hips as they act to counterbalance our bodies and finally we step out to bring our base of support under our center of gravity. These lower body muscles (hip flexors, extensors, hip abductors; knee flexors and extensors; dorsi and plantarflexors) as well as our abdominals and erector spinae, help control our movement and must be kept flexible and strong.
The visual system
And finally, the third balance system is our Visual System. Good vision provides us with information about our environment and helps us pick up clues (i.e. a change in elevation) so our bodies can react correctly. Invariably, our visual acuity will be reduced due to natural aging, but often eye diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts may take their toll as well.
How to improve them
“Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance, you have to keep moving.”
So, if and when one of these three systems weakens, the other two need to work harder to compensate.
Challenging and improving these systems is the theory behind balance training. This, along with lower body strength training and repetitive practice of balance moves, can help us not only hold the line, but regain our balance as we age.
Thanks Cornerstone Clubs and author Theresa Whitcomb
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