When it comes to staying upright, it’s important that your body’s physical components – particularly your muscles, joints and bones – are in good shape. If you can keep these healthy, you have a much lower chance of falling.
Muscles and joints
Your muscles contract and expand to move your body through space. If they can’t do that well, it’s easy for you to take a fall. To move the body, your muscles tug on your joints and make you bend. Other structures involved in this process are tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves.
Muscles cross joints, and when the muscles contract, the joint moves. If the muscles are not sufficiently lengthened – that is, sufficiently flexible – the joint will not move well. It may move with a jerky motion, be unable to achieve a full range of motion, or be unable to return to the original position once it bends. All these problems can make balance difficult.
Many older adults struggle with sarcopenia, or a loss of muscle mass. Others have dynapenia, a condition that diminishes muscle strength even if muscles maintain their mass. Both of these result in muscle weakness. When muscles are weak, they cannot move the joints efficiently, and it becomes difficult for you to make the quick adjustments necessary to maintain balance in tricky situations.
Strength and flexibility work together to keep you moving well and oriented in space. If you experience a loss of either one, it’s easy to lose balance and fall over.
Older adults can also struggle with osteopenia or osteoporosis, which indicates a loss of bone density. When your bones lose density, they become more fragile.
Fragile bones break easily. If you end up with limited mobility because of a fracture, you can lose both strength and flexibility. Thus, one fall with one broken bone can put your long-term balance at risk.
Stay on your feet
There are a few things you can do to minimize losses of strength, flexibility and even bone density.
- Continue moving! That’s the best way to maintain the health of your muscles, joints and bones. Lack of exercise is one of the major causes of loss in strength and flexibility. You don’t have to be a marathon runner, though. Even walking 10-20 minutes every day can keep your body healthy enough to decrease your risk of losing balance.
- Attend to any pain or an injury. Do what you can to address any issue that keeps you from moving. Don’t let it put you on the sidelines where you aren’t moving around!
- Lift weights. If if you’ve already lost some muscle mass or bone density, lifting can help. Again, you don’t have to do anything crazy! Even lifting light weights in a regular, progressive manner will help your muscles, joints and bones to stay healthy.
- Do yoga or other gentle stretching exercises to keep your body flexible enough to move well. Make sure you find stretches that alleviate any particular muscle tightness that you have.
Your physical therapist at Heather Lane PT can help you determine the best exercise program for you. Through your customized program, you’ll learn which to use, how to most effectively stretch your muscles and how much exercise you need to keep yourself balanced. With a good PT program, you can stay on your feet. for a long time.