Balance is the key to mobility

Are you concerned about your balance? You should be!

In the next 25 minutes, an older adult will die from a fall injury. After the age of 40 we begin to lose our natural ability to keep our balance. It is best to start now to maintain or improve this most important ability.

After our sixth decade, one in three adults will fall. These falls can lead to hip fractures, brain injuries and are the leading cause of injury death.

Many senior citizens decrease their daily activities and errands out of fear of falling. The result is an even greater loss of balance and muscle, leaving the person much more vulnerable to a fall than if they had kept at it. This can start a downward spiral in motion.

It is natural as we age for our strength and balance to decrease. Balance becomes more of a challenge as leg muscles become weaker. This may contribute to the increased incidents of falls in older people. Coupled with loss of various functions caused by disease, the chances of mobility failure are increased, making it more of a task to get in and out of a chair, a car or bed.

But there is good news — falls are preventable. Although balance training is the mainstay of fall prevention programs, any exercise that improves endurance, muscle strength and flexibility can help prevent falls and related injuries.

Beyond better balance, the other benefits of multi-component exercise programs include:

∫ Faster reaction time. This can help you keep yourself upright if you start to fall by putting out an arm quickly to grab something stable.

∫ Improved coordination. This can directly help prevent falls but can also help you roll rather than crash as you go down.

∫ More muscle. Stronger and larger muscles can buffer the impact of a fall, providing some protection to bones and joints.

∫ Stronger bones. Resistance exercises strengthen bones, and stronger bones are more resistant to fractures.

∫ Better brain function. Regular exercise helps maintain brain function with age. Clearer thinking may help you avoid situations that increase fall risk.

One way to remain active and gain strength and coordination is to participate in weekly MOVER’CISE classes. They are offered at 11:30 a.m. Tuesdays at the Shadyside Community Room; at 2 p.m. Tuesdays in Bridgeport at Family Life Fellowship; and at 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays at St. Clairsville’s J.B. Martin Recreation Center.

For more information, call Kathleen O’Connor at 304-218-1958.

O’Connor has a degree in gerontology from West Liberty University and a master’s degree in organizational leadership.