If you regularly attend Pilates, TRX and yoga classes at Holly's Pilates Village, you know the importance that our teaching team places on balance. Of course, we always strive to provide a balanced repertoire that works all of the body's major muscle groups. But in addition, we incorporate regular balance practice into our exercise routines.
Why? Because we recognize the sobering statistic that falls are the leading cause of accidental death in adults age 65 and older. About one-third of people over age 65 fall each year, compared to a rate of one in 10 for younger adults. If a person has low bone density, s/he is at even greater risk of sustaining a serious injury such as a fracture during a fall.
Problems with balance can emerge as early as age 30 or 40 and, without intervention, can lead to a continual decline in coordination and control.
"Really, everybody is at risk," Tiffany Shubert, a physical therapist who is a research scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told USA TODAY. She added that "fear of falling" can also become a problem as we age. "People start to limit their activity because they are afraid they might fall. That can have a huge impact on the quality of life. You are afraid to walk up and down stairs, so all of a sudden, you can't go to the movie theater anymore."
For most people, balance declines as lower muscle mass reduces strength and agility. Poor vision and reaction time, limited exercise, decreased flexibility, and inner ear problems can all interfere with our balance as we age.
In Pilates, we focus on strengthening each person's proprioception – understanding how our body moves through space. In Yoga, we build strength, stamina, and flexibility by holding poses for at least five breath cycles. On the CoreAlign, we use dynamic, functional movements to bring the body into better alignment so that weaker muscles don't lead to instability.
At home, you can try some of these balance-strengthening exercises suggested by the Harvard Women's Health Watch.
Stand on one leg whenever you are waiting in line at the theater, bank, or grocery store.
Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth: one minute on one leg while brushing the upper teeth, and another minute on the other leg while brushing the lower teeth.
Practice sitting down and getting up from a chair without using your hands.
Practice walking heel to toe — that is, like a tightrope walker, placing the heel of one foot just in front of the toes of the opposite foot each time you take a step.