by Cindy VanDyke
The first thing I teach in all my classes is to understand what we need to maintain balance as we age. I always say: "we are as old as our ankles"! If we do not have movement and flexibility in our ankles and we shuffle our feet, any little height difference such as a crack in the sidewalk, a curb, or a rug can cause us to lose our balance and fall.
As we age, an excellent habit to get into is to make circles with our feet. We should try to do this when we are sitting and relaxing, watching tv, knitting, or before we get out of bed in the morning. Make circles one way and then the other, and even scrunch up your toes like you are holding a pencil and then splay your toes wide. All creaks and cracks are good, as they are releases.
If you listen to Diana's presentation on functional movement, these exercises alone will help you become aware of your weaker and stronger areas. Then you can work on balancing your body by stretching strong areas and strengthening weaker areas.
In our body we have opposing muscles. For example, when we bend our knees, we are shortening the muscles in the back of our legs and lengthening the muscles in the front of our legs. Then when we straighten our legs and bend our ankles, we are lengthening the back of the leg and shortening the front. The object of this is to keep balance in the muscles of our body by moving one way and then the opposite way.
One of the best exercises for balance is standing on one foot at a time and then the other. If you need to hang on to the counter or the wall that is fine. If when lifting your foot up you become wobbly, let your toe touch the floor and then lift again. You are training your brain to increase balance. In yoga this is the tree pose. It never matters how high you lift your foot, just that you can. You also need to focus with your eyes on the floor about 5 feet away. This is your Drishti, or focal point.
Sometimes for balance we need to find our center of gravity. After you shift all your weight to the leg you are going to stand on and firm that leg up from your buttocks to your foot, slightly protrude your pelvis forward to compensate for the belly or the chest muscles and find your center of gravity. We are all different, so we need different adjustments to create balance in our body.
Ailments that Affect Physical Balance
Some of the ailments that may affect our balance are:
- Tinnitus or ringing in the ears. This may be from a medication reaction or a neck injury where a tight muscle is pressing on a nerve, amongst other causes.
- Pressure buildup inside the ear. There are many reasons this may occur. It may be an infection, water in the ear, wax build up, or the beginning of hearing loss.
Some preventative measures here are:
- A heart healthy diet. Don recommends the Mediterranean diet.
- Don’t keep the volume too high, as loud noises can cause damage.
- Wear protective headphones when around loud noises.
- Limit alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine intake.
Treatment could be:
- Hearing aids.
- Medication for the underlying cause.
- Ear wax removal.
- Antibiotics for infection.
Sometimes a white noise machine helps. Acupuncture and zinc supplements are also suggested.
Vertigo also affects balance and can be caused by some of the things previously mentioned, as well as many other more serious ailments. With vertigo you can experience total loss of balance from the spinning sensation in the head, as well as nausea and vomiting. Sometimes vertigo resolves itself, but most times we need medication and treatment.
Now that we know about physical balance and what we can do strengthen and maintain it, next time we will discuss the mental and spiritual aspects of balance.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in blog entries are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Heart Niagara.