I'm forever striving for balance in my life. At times, my work schedule gets pretty hectic, threatening to obliterate my personal time (the growing to-do list is testament to this fact). But, the other side of the coin is not perfect, either: If I take too much personal time, my to-do list might be whittled down, but so will my work opportunities.
It certainly can get mentally draining and quite challenging when life gets out of balance, don't you think? You're forever trying to stand upright, fighting the forces that pull you hither and yon.
But there's another part of balance that is just as important to maintain: our physical balance. It never hit me so hard as when I lost my balance some months back, slipping on a wet marble bathroom floor. Like a gymnast, I flew up in the air, only I didn't land with quite as much grace.
Hello, broken wrist.
Wet bathroom floors are not the only things that can threaten your balance. Balance can be affected by a lot of things: a health-related issue like an inner ear infection; low blood pressure or neurological problems; or medication issues, such as certain antibiotics or pain medications can make you feel dizzy and throw off your balance. Some older adults may have vision problems that can make falls more likely.
And there's that unsettling condition known as vertigo that is caused by crystals floating around in your inner ear, making the room spin, when, in reality, all around you is still.
Balance problems can have devastating effects, like injuries, hospitalizations, surgeries and even deaths (hip fractures are a major cause of health problems and death among older adults). Women are more likely than men to be injured in a fall: in 2008, women were 46 percent more likely than men to suffer a nonfatal fall injury.
How can you lower your risk of falling?
- Exercise to improve your balance and leg strength. One effective exercise: Stand on one foot. There are lots of scenarios where you can practice this (and no one will be the wiser for it). Try it while you're brushing your teeth, cooking or even watching the evening news. At the gym, stand on one foot while lifting light hand weights, then shift to the other foot. For an extra challenge, try balancing on one leg while standing on a pillow or other unstable surface.
- Walk heel-to-toe. In the comfort of your home (or at the gym), put your heel just in front of the toes of your opposite foot each time you take a step; your heel and toes should touch (or come close to touching), like walking a tightrope. To make it even more challenging, put a book on your head while you walk.
- Incorporate yoga into your routine. It gives you just the right blend of balance, muscular strength and flexibility.
- Work your core. Having a strong core—the muscles not just in your abs, but also around your pelvis and trunk—is imperative to keeping your body balanced.
- Sit and stand. Practice standing up and sitting down, but don't use your hands for balance or to help you stand. This will also help strengthen your quadriceps, vital in keeping your body strong and centered.
- Ask your doctor to review your medications.
- Have your vision checked. Do it at least every one to two years, and make sure to update your glasses or contacts when your vision changes.
- Make your home safe. Keep things like shoes and pet toys off the floor so you don't trip. Make sure your area rugs are secured with textured padding underneath so they don't slip. Move cords that you might trip over.