Thursday, July 4, 2024

Celebrate Independence

Vintage Lady Liberty Postcard
Image from Zazzle

Celebrate Independence

As we gather this 4th of July to celebrate our nation’s independence, it is an opportune moment to reflect on our own independence. There is no greater gift than one’s autonomy. Unfortunately, for adults aged 65 and older, falls are the leading cause of injury. Nearly one in four adults in this age group fall each year, and roughly 20% of these falls result in a serious injury.

A 2019 Duke study tested 775 men and women on their ability to balance on one foot without assistance. Participants in their 30s could balance for an impressive 57 seconds, while those in their 60s began to lose balance after 40 seconds. Those in their 70s showed a dramatic decline, losing stability after just 27 seconds. However, a Canadian study demonstrated a 74% reduction in falls among a group of 344 individuals who completed an at-home strength and balance routine for a year, compared to those who did not receive the training.

Mobility and balance rely on a symphony of functions working together to create fluid movement. The vestibular system in your inner ear, with its intricate fluid-filled canals lined with microscopic hair cells, plays a crucial role. Proprioceptors in muscles provide your body with spatial awareness. Additionally, muscle strength, the adjustment of blood vessels and heart rate when moving from lying down to standing up, and information from your eyes and nerves in your feet all contribute to keeping you steady.

Given how many systems are involved in maintaining balance, it is no wonder that even small health alterations can lead to poor balance and increased fall risk. Understanding this complexity highlights the importance of taking proactive measures to maintain and improve balance. Regular check-ups with your healthcare provider can help identify any issues that might affect balance, such as vision problems or medications that cause dizziness.

Regular exercise tailored to strength and balance is crucial. Strength training, especially for the legs and core, is essential for maintaining steadiness. Like a tree that bends with the wind, flexibility—especially in the ankles and feet—is also important. Research has shown that activities combining multiple tasks are better for balance. Engaging in sports, gardening, and even walking with a friend versus walking alone can all improve stability.

This 4th of July, as we celebrate our nation's independence, let's also commit to preserving our own. Lack of mobility as we age is not inevitable; we can all take steps at any age to improve our chances of leading long, flexible lives, without the fear of falling.

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