By Ben Croxford
Balance is a skill we often take for granted. That is until we lose it!
To keep a human being upright, it takes a complex interplay between different balancing systems within the body. We have three main mechanisms that work together to maintain our balance: the vestibular apparatus in our ears, our eyes, and stretch receptors that live around the body that feed positional information (proprioception) back to our brain. Each of those systems can be affected by age-related changes, injuries and other diseases, meaning our balance and ability to react to unexpected knocks and bumps is reduced as we get older. This leads to an increased risk of falls, which can have devastating consequences, especially for those who might suffer from diseases such as osteoporosis.
I like to think of balance as a skill, just like playing the guitar. If you want to improve on the guitar, we all know you have to practice – there’s no other way! Balance is no different – to improve our balance and reduce the effects of ageing, we must practice it. The more you practice and challenge your balance, the more your systems will adapt and respond. Your muscles will get stronger, your reaction times improve and your confidence will grow. Most importantly, your risk of falling will reduce.
There are many places and people who can help to improve your balance. As a physiotherapist, I regularly assess and prescribe exercises and drills to safely challenge someone’s balance. I also love the many community groups that run Falls and Balance classes amongst other things.
There’s an old phrase that I think is as relevant today as ever: “Use it or lose it”. As we move through the years, it is so important that we stay active and keep moving. Our quality of life as we head into our later years depends on it.
Ben Croxford is a Physiotherapist and leads the team at Form & Practice Mt Evelyn, Olinda and Chirnside Park. His writings explore his favourite health topics, challenge common myths and aim to empower you to take control of your own health. Find out more at formandpractice.com.au