Ester Marsh: Aging affects balance

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 27, 2011

Q: I have a problem with my balance. I am worried that I am going to fall and break something. Are there exercises I can do to help my balance problem?
A: As most older adults have already experienced , aging can bring problems with balance. I would first make sure there aren’t any medical issues.
Check with your doctor. There is a possibility you could have a balance disorder like vertigo, which is marked by the sensation that things around you are spinning. Another problem could be labyrinthitis, which an infection or inflammation of the inner ear causing dizziness and loss of balance. Meniere’s disease is also balance disorder.
Symptoms of balance problems include vertigo, hearing loss that comes and goes, ringing of the ears and a feeling of fullness in the ear, even nausea.
If you have been checked for disorders and you still have problems with your balance, it could be muscular. Aging corresponds with the loss of muscle mass and a decrease in muscle strength.
The loss of muscle strength, especially in the legs, makes maintaining balance difficult. Another issue could be weakening of the bones as a result of osteoporosis.
Decreased mobility in the knees and ankles can also increase the risk of falling of an elderly person.
Studies have shown success with tai chi, yoga, and strength training. Numerous older adults who I worked with had problems with frequent falls.
I started them on a strength-training program and worked on their balance with balance exercises. The falls were nearly eliminated.
As most of you know, strength training also helps to strengthen the bones and has a huge impact on a person’s mental and emotional health. You won’t believe how quick you will feel better and are getting your strength back.
When you start a strength program, don’t focus solely on the legs. Work the whole body, but let me give you some great leg exercises:
• Leg press.
• Leg extensions.
• Leg curls.
• Lunges.
• Seated calf raises.
Perform two to three sets of 12 repetitions after the first couple of weeks, using lighter weights. Use a weight that you can lift 12 times.
Make sure you have a good warm up and general stretching before you start.
Besides strength training, you can start a tai chi or yoga class. Both will help your balance.
And I have seen great improvement with people who have attended my “Estelatte” (Yoga, tai chi, Pilates mix) class.
So, strength training, yoga, Tai Chi or simple balance exercises will be your greatest success to regaining your balance.
Ester Marsh, ACSM Cpt