Discovery! You Tip Your Balance to Find Your Balance

By Marilynn Preston

September 4, 2018 5 min read

I was out hiking with some pals, when the woman just ahead of me stepped onto uneven ground and stumbled. I happened to be looking at her feet when it happened. l gasped.

Her right ankle twisted deeply toward the ground and rebounded sharply. Ouch! It hurt just to watch. Lila screamed her favorite unprintable and managed to remain upright.

"Are you OK?" I screamed back, pretty sure she wasn't.

"I don't know," she said. Moving slowly, she sat down, wiggled her toes, rotated her ankle and let out a sigh. Her ankle felt a little tingly but wasn't hurt. And we continued to enjoy a balmy outdoor afternoon.

"This is why we do yoga," I said. She agreed. And a column was born.

—Falls are serious. First the bad news. For people 65 or older, falls are the No. 1 cause of injury, hospital visits and death from an injury. Balance issues also happen to much younger people for lots of reasons — illness, vision problems, too many Moscow mules — but the one thing all people who fall have in common is this: Many of their falls are preventable.

Yes, as we age, we are likelier to fall, but it doesn't have to be that way. There are excellent, proven strategies both for preventing falls from happening and for creating less havoc if they do.

And that's why Sept. 22 has been officially declared Fall Prevention Awareness Day across America. (I am not making this up.) Go to http://stopfalls.org for details, including things you can do to lower the risk of falling in your house, such as installing grab bars and handrails and securing rugs. The National Council on Aging's website (https://www.ncoa.org) is another good place to find out about balance training programs in your community.

—What happens to balance as we age? It gets worse. If we let aging happen willy-nilly (meaning no strength training, no flexibility training, no yoga), our joints stiffen, and our muscles get weaker. Before we know it, a simple misstep on uneven pavement can send us into surgery and weeks of rehab.

Our vestibular system — inside our ears, connected to our brain — also takes a hit as we age. Your vestibular system lets your body know where it is in space so if you suddenly start to trip over a tennis ball, for instance, your brain can quickly tell your body what to do to regain your balance.

That's what I witnessed with Lila. Her ankle twisted, and she was headed for a fall, but years of doing her best Tree Pose, Utkatasana, Bhadakanasana — OK, I'll stop now — has made her joints and muscles stable and flexible enough to help her recover her balance, quickly and safely.

That's something we work on in yoga every time we practice — losing our balance to find our balance; that will keep our vestibular system and proprioceptive skills as strong as possible for as long as possible.

Tai chi will do that, too. I love tai chi! It's an ancient and remarkably effective training to develop and sustain strength, stability and balance.

"Studies have shown tai chi to reduce falls in seniors up to 45 percent," according to Dr. Peter Wayne from the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He also happens to be the founder of the Tree of Life Tai Chi Center in Somerville, Massachusetts, and he knows from experience what a terrific practice tai chi is for people of all ages. It's especially great for people with Parkinson's disease, with multiple sclerosis or recovering from a stroke.

—More on prevention. YouTube has a good assortment of balance exercises you can do, and they all work, if you actually do them. A YouTube video by two physical therapists named Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck presents seven classic ones, including standing on one foot and rising up and down on your toes. If they look too simple, try them with your eyes closed.

—Learn how to fall. The wikiHow article titled "How to Fall Safely" is well worth reviewing before you find yourself in a downward slide. Some less obvious tips: Stay loose and roll into the fall; turn as you fall to land on your side; try breathing out as you fall to keep the body relaxed.

Best tip? Don't fall!

ENERGY EXPRESS-O! RISE UP, PLEASE

"Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall." — Confucius

Marilynn Preston is the author of "Energy Express," America's longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new book, "All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being," is available now on Amazon and elsewhere. Visit Creators Publishing at creators.com/books/all-is-well to learn more. For more on personal well-being, visit www.MarilynnPreston.com.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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