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  • Brian Tully, MS

Keeping Our Balance

Updated: Jan 14, 2020

Importance of Balance Training and Fall Prevention

(As seen in Leland Magazine)

It is no secret that falling down causes injuries. But what you might not know is that 30 to 60 percent of elderly individuals living in a community fall each year, with many of them experiencing multiple falls per year. To make matters worse, falls are actually the leading cause of injury related deaths in older adults and a significant cause of disability in this population. Therefore, prevention of falls and subsequent injuries should by a high priority; and a balance training program may be one of the key methods.

According to the National Institute for Health (NIH), a balance training program strengthens self-efficacy in balance control which leads to improved fall related self-efficacy, reduced fear of falling, increased walking speed, and improved physical function.

Balance training is especially important and yet an often overlooked component of post-surgical recovery. Adding balance training to the post-surgical exercise program has been shown to reduce fall risk and improve overall ambulation ability.

According to the US Physical Activity Guidelines and the American College of Sports Medicine, older adults should follow a multi-component physical activity program that includes balance training along with aerobic and muscle strengthening activities. Specific balance training is recommended to be performed at least 3 times per week, but daily is the best medicine.

The goal of any balance and fall prevention training program should be to ultimately get the participant out of their chair and on their feet. If independent living and a high level of function are the desired results, the individual must be able to walk, carry things, weight shift, react, respond, slow down, and stop…all while staying upright.

Are you in need of some balance training? You can assess yourself with a simple baseline test of Standing on 1-Leg. To perform the test, simply stand on one leg without support of the upper body or bracing of one leg against the other. The number of seconds you are able to maintain this position is what is measured. Test ends when the foot touches down or the upper body touches something for support. (IMPORTANT: always perform this test near a stable object)

How did you do? The longer the better of course; however it is important to note that seniors double their chances of falling and sustaining an injury if they are unable to perform this test for at least 5 seconds.

The goals of a balance training program should include: Maintaining Neutral, Single Leg Balance, Level Changes, Weight Shifting, Walking and Carrying Capability, and Reaction Time.

Along with the above mentioned balance training program goals, strength training plays a significant role in fall prevention. When we lose our balance the following muscles must jump into action and they must be strong enough to do their job when called upon:

  • Toes grip the floor and the muscles of the calf decelerate the ankle

  • Core muscles must contract to stabilize the spine and hips

  • Quadriceps (front thigh muscles) lock and stabilize the knee

  • Glutes (buttocks) and Hamstrings (back of thigh) decelerate the hip

  • Abductors (outer thigh and outer buttocks) stabilize the pelvis

Practice the Basics

STAND – stand on each leg for at least 5 seconds; do this multiple times per day; try not to hold on, but have support available; remember the inability to stand on each leg for at least 5 seconds is associated with a greater fall risk, so be sure to practice

SQUAT – sit down and stand up multiple times every day; put a dining room chair against a wall for support; try to maintain a “crouched” position over the chair for 5-10 seconds; squatting is associated with an increase in independent living ability

WALK - walk every day; walk briskly as possible; fast walking speeds are associated with increased longevity, but gradually increase speed as you improve your single leg balance ability…walking requires a lot of balance training components.

Beat the Grim Reaper

In December of 2011, the British Medical Journal reported the results of research from “The Grim Reaper Study” which correlated walking speed to longevity. Basically it said that the faster older adults can walk, the lower their mortality rate. According to the study, your goal would be to be able to walk 4.5 feet per second (3 mph pace). This equates to 135 feet in 30 seconds. The study concluded that the nearly 0% mortality rate of those in the study able to walk 3 mph or greater must mean that the Grim Reaper’s maximal walking speed is about 2.9 mph.

Walking is great exercise but it does require a lot of balance to do, especially at a fast pace. This is why balance training is important as we age. As The Grim Reaper Study states, he doesn’t walk fast…but he doesn’t need to if you fall. Take the single leg assessment test and practice the basics. You will be very surprised what a little daily practice will do for you in jut a few short weeks.

As always, if you have additional questions regarding this month's article or have a topic you would like to see covered in future articles; please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via email.

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