HOW good are you at balancing?
The answer can give clues to your health and possible life expectancy.
Around one in five adults aged 51 to 75 cannot stand on one leg for ten seconds.
According to a study from Brazil, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that such people have nearly double the risk of death within a decade.
But how can life expectancy come down to being able to stand on one foot?
Professor Paul Lee, Harley Street consultant orthopaedic surgeon, tells Sun Health: “It’s not merely a balance test, it’s a comprehensive exercise that engages multiple joints and muscles in a co-ordinated way.”
Ilaria Bellantuono, professor of musculoskeletal ageing at University of Sheffield, adds: “Your muscles, bones, joints, eyes, nerves, heart and blood vessels — you need all of these things to maintain balance.
“So if you have problems with balance, it’s likely that one of these, at least, is not working very well.”
Ahead of Balance Awareness Week next week, we look at how it can improve muscles — and ways you can get better at it.
Good balance means you have better muscles and joints, and are less likely to get diseases of the musculoskeletal system, says Prof Ilaria.
A third of British people suffer from poor musculoskeletal health, according to NHS England, with conditions including back pain, arthritis and fibromyalgia.
These conditions lead to 30million lost work days a year, second only to mental health.
Prof Bellantuono says: “There is not much we can do about it at the moment, apart from exercise.
“Therefore, people visit their GP very often because they have pain, cannot work as well, and their quality of life is reduced.”
Better balance can help prevent falls. One in three over-65s falls at least once a year.
Sir Elton John, 76, was admitted to hospital after a fall last month.
They are the most common cause of injury-related deaths for over-75s, according to Age UK.
Victoria Anderson, clinical exercise physiologist and director of Longevity Health and Fitness, London, says: “Improving somebody’s balance and reducing their risk of falls can reduce their risk of hospital admissions and major surgeries, such as hip replacements.”
Never too early
Muscles and strength gradually diminish from as early as age 30, says Prof Paul.
He adds: “As one ages, there is a reduction in flexibility due to changes in collagen fibres within ligaments and tendons, affecting the range of motion in various joints.
“Cartilage, which cushions the joints, starts to degrade, contributing to conditions like osteoarthritis.
“Bone mineral density generally peaks in the late twenties and starts to decline gradually thereafter. The decline becomes more pronounced, post-menopause, for women.”
Victoria says the vestibular, which provides a sense of balance by linking the eyes and inner ear to the brain, also weakens with age.
She adds: “What we end up with is somebody who has lost strength, stability and co-ordination. This increases the risk of falls.”
Doctors particularly recommend that people with Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and spine and posture-related issues work on their balance.
What can I do?
If you can’t stand on one leg for ten seconds, don’t panic. The more you practise, the easier it becomes.
Victoria says: “Just start with what you can do. Even if it is only a few minutes’ practise a day, it will have more effect than doing nothing.”
Walking and yoga are among the best workouts to improve balance and stability.
Tai Chi — a slow Chinese martial art and workout — was shown in a study in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation to significantly improve balance after eight weeks.
Victoria says: “People can see a difference in just a couple of weeks. Long-term adherence to exercise is obviously best.
“Once the easier exercises have become manageable and achievable, progress to the intermediate and advanced exercises.”
Six exercises to help you get there
EASY – backward step, 15 reps each leg:
At an easy level, slowly walk backwards with a kitchen countertop either side of you for support.
Progress to medium level without support.
EASY – heel to toe, 15-30 seconds:
Stand facing forwards. Put your right heel in front of your left toe.
Repeat with left. This is easy with support, but harder alone. You may need a chair for support.
MEDIUM – stand on one leg, 10-15 seconds: Lift a leg so you are balancing on one.
Victoria says: “If someone can do that for 15 seconds, that’s a really good benchmark for their overall health.”
MEDIUM – eye-shut stand, 5-10 seconds: Stand with feet together, looking ahead.
Victoria says: “The longer you’re able to keep eyes closed, the more the body is adapting to not using the eyes.”
HARD – sideways rotation, ten-15 seconds: Stand with one foot in front of the other, heel to toe.
Put the arms in a “T” position and rotate the body – arms, neck, head and chest – to the side.
HARD – back to back, 30 seconds:
Stand with a partner and pass an object to them by rotating.
They pass it back to the other side.
Victoria says: “Having your feet together and eyes closed is harder.”
September 12, 2023 at 03:57AM
from The Sun