While this post is for all ages to know, especially from a long-term preventative point of view, the core of this post is aimed at fixing a problem: that of loss of Balance and Stability especially in the Elderly.
How big is the problem:
While researching for my books, I’ve found plenty of information to indicate that falls among the elderly is a massive problem (one in 3 elders over the age of 65 falls each year, many getting hospitalized as a result).
Combined with osteoporosis, falls can lead to hip fractures. Hip fractures shorten life-expectancy (20% dying within the first year, and 2/3rds never regaining their original functionality/independence).
Loss of balance and stability is due to extensive muscle-loss (Sarcopenia being the medical term).
If you have a feeling that your balance and stability is not quite up to the mark, you will, in all likelihood, need some really quick muscle-building happening for you.
If, on the other hand, you are caring for someone who is losing balance and stability, you have your work cut out for you, mainly because, you need to:
a. convince your charge that they have the power to do something about it – instead of simply throwing their hands up in the air and succumbing to the inevitable ageing process- and,
b. convince your charge that they should exercise, plain and simple, and then, get them started, changing their habits to become persistent enough to obtain some gains in strength.
Pauline, I need help, we heard a quavering male voice call out, at one-thirty in the morning. Pauline, I need help.
At first I thought it was some drunk, though, in the quiet suburb we live in, not much of that sort of thing happens. The voice kept on calling out. Pauline, I need help.
Mate, where are you? my wife, Tanya, called out of our first floor bedroom window.
Corner of Rose and Wattle streets, called back the voice.
I dashed over in my pajamas, hoisted myself up to the top of the high wooden gate, and spied him, lying on his side beside the swimming pool, a bag of pool salts spilled next to him.
The ambulance was there within 20 minutes.
In the meantime, we awoke a fast-asleep Pauline, and got the story from Tony:
At around midnight, after playing games on his PC, deciding to salt the pool, Tony carried the bag down a couple of steps, then, as he was leaning over to put the bag down, toppled over, and couldn’t get up.
The paramedics confirmed that Tony had a broken femur.
Falls are something we need to be highly concerned about.
Falling, especially for older adults, can cause injuries like hip fractures and head injuries. Often, these fractures can lead to early death, for one of many causes: no one around to assist or hear the calls of the sufferer. For example, Tony could have toppled into the pool, and drowned. Or, if his voice had been ignored by Tanya and myself (as it was by all the other neighbours), he could have become another victim of exposure in the chill early spring night.
Everyday functions and activities require balance, stabilization and coordination and these factors directly affect our independence.
If you or your charge finds balancing is getting increasingly difficult, and there is a possibility of falling over, it’s time to address that problem right now, in fact, like yesterday.
What is Balance:
Balance is the ability to maintain a certain position over time, without moving. Your balance depends on: your centre of gravity and your baseÂ support. The lower your centre of gravity, and the larger your base support, the better your balance will be.
Lose balance and you could injure yourself in a fall. And fractures, at any age, are not something we welcome.
The muscles affected:
Your core muscles are small and larger muscles that wrap your body, from your abdominals, around your intercostal muscles (the muscles between the ribs) and around to your back.
There are other (and larger) muscles in the body that help you with balance: the legs (especially the quads or quadriceps) and the calves.
The solution to regaining your ability to stabilize and balance yourself is twofold:
- Taking Action (Exercise): to build your core muscles and your muscle strength.
- Improved Nutrition: to support the exercise.
As the muscles mentioned above are large masses of muscle, they have the potential to grow fast, given sufficient stimulus and a suitable supporting diet, thus providing a more solid foundation for you.
These muscles need to be engaged, to build up some degree of mass and then strengthen them.
One common tool used to help improve balance is the half-Bosu ball, an exercise ball specially cut in half, such that one side is flat and the other rounded. Stand on the exercise ball, using a strong support, and then try to let go of the support (or lean a little less heavily on the support while balancing on this rocking platform.) The small stabilizer muscles in your body start working to support your body, and over time build themselves up.
However, I believe in working the body as far as it will go, because the kind of stuff I teach challenges your muscles far more than the Bosu-ball exercises will. This kind of challenge results in greater and faster muscle growth and strength: exactly what I want for all my trainees.
Some exercises that will enhance your balance and stability:
(Having said that, many of our weaker charges may not be able to perform many of the below exercises due to advanced Sarcopenia, and will have to take these exercises in small doses (low repetitions, from 3 or 4 repetitions per set, and low sets, from 1 to 2 sets per session), beginning with short sessions twice a day. The aim is to build up to 4 sets of 10-12 reps for each exercise outlined below.)
At Home Exercises:
Squats: squatting/sitting into a chair, while holding onto the back of another chair for support and stability. This is a great leg quadriceps -builder. The Quads are the main working muscles for sitting/standing.
Haversack deadlifts for your lower and upper back
The haversack can be filled with bits and pieces from around the house, increasing the weight as the trainee gets stronger. The back and core muscles get challenged by this exercise as well as the legs.
Reverse axe swings work your core muscles, shoulder and upper back:
Start with the incline pushup, where you kneel on something soft, and perform the pushups against a heavy chair or lounge/sofa. This is the easiest of the pushups, but a great way to start building your upper chest strength.
Once you get stronger progress to kneeling flat pushups, and then, to full pushups (the same as the above, but on your toes instead of the knees).
Most women tend to find push-ups more than a mite challenging, but build up push-up strength with the above progression, and you will get stronger.
The plank is a great core exercise, and strengthens your back muscles as well as your abdominal and lower chest area, all regions we need to help keep us upright. The aim is to hold this position as long as possible, increasing the length of time you hold every time by a few seconds (build up to 2 minutes).
Now, the above exercises are challenging, to say the least, but it’s important to begin, begin slowly, with a few reps, a few sets per session, keeping them short, but a minimum of twice a day in the beginning (morning/evening) to stimulate your muscles into a speedy recovery.
You may need some support/assistance during the earlier parts of the exercise regime, but you will thank the stars that led you to this blog post later down the track.
Tackling your Nutrition:
My research indicates that, as we get older, our ability to process and metabolize protein diminishes drastically, the stuff that helps us build muscle. Hence, I recommend:
Increasing your protein intake to 2 gms per Kilogram bodyweight per day.
This is quite a high amount of protein to absorb through normal meals, and you may need supplementation in the form of protein powders (check online for bulk and cheaper sources of protein powders. I recommend the concentrate instead of the isolate from a price to utility point of view).
Always have your protein with some form of carbohydrate for better assimilation. Hence, meals like spaghetti bolognaise, whole eggs with wholemeal bread, and yogurt with oats help immensely in putting that muscle mass (and strength) back on.
Increase the number of your meals to 6 instead of 4 and reduce the portion size accordingly.
However, if my experience with elderly people is anything to go by, most older persons tend to eat less than more, so the danger is not in the overeating region.
The increase of meals helps keep the metabolism high, while utilizing the longer time-spread to help promote absorption of nutrients.
While the above solution may be quite commonly known, the most important part of the process is changing one’s mindset: that we each, whatever our age or level of strength, have the ability to take control of our current condition and improve it. We need to take action, consistent action to keep ourselves at the top of our game, and improve our Quality of Life, keeping ourselves strong, fit, healthy and independent.
Hence, the importance of the realization, for all of my readers today, be you a care-giver or yourself the care reciever, to take preventative action, long before sarcopenia hits and osteo raises its ugly head (though both sarcopenation of the muscles and osteoporosis are long processes).
As usual, I recommend talking to your medical expert before performing any of these exercises or changing your nutrition, so that s/he can gauge your individual fitness for the exercises recommended or the nutrition modification.
Wherever I recommend a fix for a problem, I emphasise that we, each of us, can turn our bodies (and more importantly, our selves: our minds and our spirits) from weakening, ageing mortals, to strong, independent, and fun-loving human spirits, free to live our lives as we please, and enjoy the best of it until the very end.
We do this by looking after our nutrition, and by challenging our bodies: firstly, at home, then progress to challenging our bodies more and more in the gym, where there is more resistance available for us, triggering our bodies to grow from every different angle, in every area of our musculature.
Those of the us of the Grey Generations who do not exercise with resistance ( and maybe only walk/stroll now and then, or even regularly), will mostly find that our muscle loss progresses as we age, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but definitely progresses. So at some stage, we may find that our balance and stability is compromised. The only solution to this is prevention: using resistance exercise to trigger our muscles to stay that way, or to get stronger, thus helping our balance and stability.
Our Balance and Stability is a key component of our ability to be independent and free, and if we work to build it up, and maintain it by consistent resistance exercise, as systematized in my books, we will find ourselves looking and feeling years and years, yes, decades younger than our actual age!
As the saying goes: Use it, or lose it.
Update: Here’s the ‘sister’ video on YouTube: Falls in the Elderly: Prevention & Cure
To your health, strength and ever-growing self-esteem.