The dictionary defines balance as:
- an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady
- put (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall
- an instrument for weighing
- an oscillating wheel operating with a hairspring to regulate the movement of a timepiece
- physical equilibrium
Perhaps you have also heard people say things such as, “My balance has always been bad”, or “Poor balance is a part of getting old”, or even “I am thinking about getting a stick now that my balance is so bad”
So in your context, what is balance?
Maintaining ones balance depends on the following 3 processes happening:
- Your sensory system accurately portraying information on your body’s position in its environment – Hearing, vision and touch (such as our feet on the floor)
- Your brain processing that information – Neurons, sensory receptors in the brain and the decision making centres.
- Your muscles and joints coordinating movement based on the information your brain gives them – Being able to contract and relax to move how you want to.
These 3 factors are usually an automatic process for our body, and so when we feel our balance worsening, we need to explore which of these steps are not working how they should.
Most of the time, poor balance is a combination of a few factors, each adding a little bit to our instability. It is important to explore each of these factors and see which are lacking. Most of the time our balance problems can be anticipated and corrected if we know what to look out for.
There is one thing that is certain in life, and that is that each and every one of us ages a little bit, every day. In your 20’s and 30’s ageing is probably not even noticed, as life is so busy and exciting. By the time you are 40, some hints start creeping in, but these are minor symptoms of ageing – slight crow’s feet around your eyes, or somewhat less vigour and energy compared to when you were in your youth, for example. When you are in your mid 50’s all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you have developed several aches and pains, body stiffness, and you may have to take a handful of pills every day for a list of chronic conditions that you have somehow managed to accumulate. What about when you are 70 or 80 years old, then what? Considering that life expectancy has increased substantially, and that people are living much longer than a few decades ago, it’s certainly becoming a realistic question to ask, “When I am in my mid-80’s, how will I have aged and how functional will I be?”
Ageing seems to be relative, as some people approach ageing with the attitude of “70 is the new 60”. How old are you really? Your biological age is simply how long you have been alive, but a much more important question is, “What is your body age?” In other words, how well does your body work and function? Is your body old, stiff, weak, unable to carry out functional activities because of pain, disease, chronic conditions and poor lifestyle habits? Or are you mobile, functional, able and fit? Although we are all getting “older” every day, exercise has been shown to challenge the concept of biological ageing, as it significantly reduces the risk of disease development and other chronic conditions that are so often associated with old age.
Winter… the dreaded time where productivity decreases, laziness increases, and the days are generally colder and darker, making it a lot less appealing to exercise.
Staying active all year round can be an intimidating task, especially when Mother Nature is not co-operating. This is why it is important to be involved in a community based exercise program where you can have friends to hold you accountable and cheer you on through the winter. Exercising throughout the year will help you to achieve a weather-proof, healthy lifestyle. When we exercise, our muscles change slowly and get stronger over time, which is why it is vitally important to keep up your fitness throughout the year, as opposed to exercising intensely in the summer and then doing nothing in the winter.
Knowing that activity levels drop in winter and we are naturally inclined to exercise less, this is one more reason to celebrate the 1st of September and the start of Spring!
August – the month when women unite to celebrate their uniqueness and embrace the power that comes with being female. Women are special and so it makes sense that the ageing process, as well as the factors that influence ageing are different between the genders. So while there are a lot of similarities, there are some things that are uniquely female.
According to the World Health Organisation, women live an average four years longer than men. Life expectancy ranges from 58 – 80 across the world. However cardiovascular disease, which is often considered a “male” problem, is the number one cause of death in women. Luckily exercise substantially reduces not only the risk of cardiovascular disease but also many other chronic disease risk factors including breast cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and more. Women tend to live longer than men, as they make up 54% of people 60 years of age, 60% at age 75 and older, and to 70% at age 90 and older. As a result, it is even more important for older women to ensure that they maintain an active lifestyle achieving the correct type and amount of exercise. Being active is not just about adding years to your life, it’s about adding quality life to your years.
Improved health care has lead to an unprecedented growth in the older population and soon there will be more adults over 65 than children under 5 years of age. However, the incidence of falls is also increasing and fall injuries are now among the 20 most expensive medical conditions.
As seen in the image above, 1 in 3 individuals over the age of 65 falls once a year, and of those who fall, half will fall recurrently. By the age of 80 the proportion of older adults who fall annually increases to 50%. Falls lead to morbidity and mortality and can have serious implications on the individual as well as on the global population.
Almost everyone will suffer from some form of lower back pain (LBP) at some point in their lives… So what is it that makes us so susceptible to LBP?
The spine is the main boney structure in the back; it consists of thirty three vertebrae that work together to form the backbone of our body. These vertebrae alone cannot support the massive loads and high stress and strain that we put on our backs. The vertebrae require assistance from all our soft tissue structures, ligaments, joints, fascia and most especially our muscles.
The back is full of muscles, big ones that cover large portions of the back, and more importantly small, deep muscles surrounding the spine, that provide stability and support.
Over the last few months, I have reviewed several research issues related to aging in general and specifically the relationship between exercise and healthy aging. So what have I learned that I think physicians should know?
One of the most debated topics is how much exercise does one actually need to do a week? Some will say you need to be in the gym for an hour everyday… others swear by special machines that mean 10 minutes a week is enough…
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has researched this topic from every angle and has found indisputable evidence that all humans need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.