The month of February was very cold and wet. Where we live, the ground was frozen and the water couldn't sink in, creating many areas in our yard for slipping and sliding. I walked with a shuffle step across the ice trying to control my balance while my kids ran, slid and fell on the ice. Then they got up and did it again and again. I could tell that I was getting older. I had no intention nor desire to copy them. They hit their hips, knees and elbows on the ice over and over. Being young and flexible, they would recover quickly. Not so for those of us who are older.
It's just a fact of life. The older we get the slower we recover, making us timid about certain activities. Like getting on the floor. Or climbing stairs. Or dancing because our balance is poor. Or walking on icy sidewalks or parking lots.
Do you want to improve your balance? I read a great article in the Washington Post about how swimming may be the best exercise as you age. When you swim, you're forced to create your own base of support and coordinate upper and lower extremity movement. Not only with swimming but also with walking in the water. Opposite leg and arm stride movement while walking against the water's resistance requires brain engagement and core stability because of the various directional currents of the water.
A study of men, age 70 and older in Australia, compared types of exercises performed and the likelihood of experiencing a fall. The men in the study who swam were 33 percent likely to fall. The men in the study who did other forms of exercise like golf, calisthenics, working out on treadmills or stationary bikes did not decrease their fall risk.
Also, the swimmers did better on a test of postural sway compared to the non-swimmers. Postural sway is a standing balance test where the participant stands as still as possible for 30 seconds. Body movement at waist level is then measured. This test requires strong and stable core muscles which swimming helps to train.
All of us need to maintain good leg strength, upper body strength and postural control as we age to help with our balance. Walking is very good for endurance training and it's very easy to do (no gym required). But walking alone isn't enough. We also need to incorporate complex movement activities into our life like swimming, water walking and dancing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three U.S. adults age 65 and older experience a fall in a given year. Let's work to improve this statistic by challenging ourselves with complex movements every day. Make daily plans to improve your balance. Here's to your good health.