Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving – Albert Einstein
There’s a funny thing about balance I often wonder if people “get”. It’s really the guts and glory of what “good balance” is, but I wonder how understood this truth really is. Here it is...Balance isn’t something you ever have.
The work, the attention, the practice of balancing is where your aim ought to be. You never get balanced and stay there. It’s not a static achievement. It’s a dynamic act of awareness and mindfulness of all your daily movement. Cooking, walking, stepping up a curb, brushing your teeth, getting out of your car, reaching for the dog bowl, gardening, even making your bed... All of those things - It’s all in the practice. Balance challenges present themselves a gazillion times a day. Your auto pilot usually does a good job, but sometimes you’re wondering how that rug rolled up to trip you that way.
Want Better Balance? Improve the way you move. Period. That’s it. But that doesn’t mean start exercising or exercise more or even move more. It has nothing to do with more. It has everything to do with your movement patterns.
Receptivity opens up your understanding.
That understanding is about yourself. Better balance begins here. The order goes like this. Be open, receive, notice. How are you moving about your day? Observe activities you take for granted such as how you get dressed in the morning. There are scattered bits of balance in that. When people don’t feel confident about their balance do you know what happens? They limit their movement. They stop doing the things they love because their confidence plummets. Don’t go there. Here’s something you can start doing right now to get better at balancing. It’s only two words, but they’re big.
Watch yourself. Notice your perceptions. Observe your patterns, your habits, your reactions. That’s the first step. Practice awareness. Balance lives in the nooks and crannies in between your movements. That’s a biggie. And it’s a choice. Better balance... If it really is like riding a bicycle, you better start pedaling. And keep pedaling.
Experience working with active older adults has taught this lesson - ageism is ever present. Society’s views on what seniors are emotionally, physically and socially capable of is limited and outdated. So you might think, it's the young kids who think of seniors as being really old. Maybe you think your children are the ones who underestimate your abilities. But guess what we've found out? Outdated stereotypes about aging are prevalent within the senior population itself, and that's a big problem!
Whether you like it or not, societal views can creep in to your own psyche. Did you know that scientific data about being exposed to stereotypes about aging can cause you to perform worse physically and cognitively? It’s true. I can't help but think of the people I know. There's a woman who I'll call Mary. We talk on a variety of topics, and she often refers to herself as an "old person". She says things like, "You know how it is for us seniors...It's tough getting old..." She thinks as though she's an old person, She moves as though she's much older than her actual age. She's fine with having sold her house and moving into a community where everything is done for her and her husband, even though her husband was against the idea. She's drawn to the fact that every meal can be cooked for them and that doctors, hair stylists and restaurants are part of the community; they'd never have to leave the premises. Everything is connected by tunnels so they don't have to step outside.
Then I know people who who are the complete opposite of Mary. I'll refer to this woman as Nancy. Nancy loves that she lives in a single home. She enjoys doing things around the house and getting outside in the sun to garden or walk. She does her own shopping and cooking. She relishes her independence because with it she stays healthy, happy and young at heart. This is a fact, she's healthier in so many ways compared to Mary. Nancy is happy where Mary seems depressed. Nancy has boundless energy and Mary is sluggish and slow. Nancy's strong while Mary focuses on the things she can no longer physically do. Nancy travels, goes out for dinner and other events and stays socially involved. Mary is content to spend the majority of days in the house with her husband.
The new old age is HERE. It's available to everyone, and if you want it you'll have to ditch any outdated notions of what it means to age. Eat a healthy diet. If you need to lose weight, give it a try and get help if you you need some extra motivation. Get up and move. Go out with your friends. Breathe fresh air. Stay fit, Find new experiences because that keeps your brain active and new neural pathways growing. Do something to enrich your spirit. And of course you know that we'll continue to encourage you to stick with us to learn more about staying strong, standing tall and having better balance!
Women know to get their first mammogram at age 40. What test are we supposed to get when we’re 50? If you said, "colonoscopy", you’re right. What test should we get when we’re 55? The problem is that there isn't one, but there should be. With falls being such an epidemic, I wish our health care system would encourage us to get a thorough balance evaluation. I don’t mean the kind where you stand and reach or stand on one foot. That’s not good enough. I’m talking about one that includes things such as (but not limited to): past medical history, medications you currently take and obtaining your blood pressure while seated and standing… If an evaluation like this was in place, the incidence of head trauma, fractures, hospitalizations and deaths from falls would drastically decrease!
Do you know which governmental agency agrees? The CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) does. The CDC is a division of Health and Human Services. They began an initiative to prevent falls called STEADI. The acronym stands for STopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths and Injuries from falls. Here are the questions they ask older adults to help them assess whether they’re a fall risk. So go ahead, and give it a try yourself. Grab a pen and paper and tally the number of yeses that you answer.
The CDC reports that people with more yeses to the statements you just read are more likely to fall compared to people who answered “no” more frequently.
When we compare fall risk to the list of top fears among older adults, what emerges is a correlation. Global studies have been done, and no matter which industrialized areas people live in, their fears are exactly the same. This isn’t the full list, but I’d bet you’ve worried about some or all of these:
Because you're responsible, you've likely decided to protect your financial security and home by getting help from accountants, attorneys, financial advisors, investment brokers and insurance agents. Now let me ask, how many people do you have on your physical wellness team? Do you see the imbalance? And guess what? It’s not your fault. Our health care system has trained us to think this way. Our parents and extended family may have lived this way.
This is where the correlation I previously eluded to regarding the CDC’s fall risk questions and the top fears among older people emerges and collides. Some of you are at risk of falling, you’re afraid of what might happen, and the major problem is that no one is there to direct you as to how to prevent the fall so you can stay healthy, happy and lead an independent productive life.
That’s what Boost My Balance™ does. You don’t have to be afraid. You can continue doing the things that bring you joy rather than to decline because you’re afraid you might fall. You’ve worked hard so that you can enjoy this part of your life. Let us help you safely navigate that journey.
Most times reasons for falls are excuses for bigger, less obvious underlying causes. So when people tell me about their bungled balance, I dig deeper to help them decipher the truth. My goal is to help people make some tweaks in their environment or their behavior to avoid the consequences of what happens when we fall.
Let's go over the top 10 reasons why people fall and what the real cause of the fall could be:
My foot caught on to the edge of a carpet. Throw rugs, tattered, torn and uneven rugs cause so many falls. The problem isn't solely based on the fact that you didn't lift your foot up enough, but that you need to replace, tack-down or remove carpets that are a safety hazard.
I slid down a couple stairs, but I caught myself on the railing. Carrying things that obscure your view of your feet is a major reason for falls on stairs. This often happens when people carry laundry baskets or other large items. Too often, reaching out with your arm and grabbing a railing as you fall contributes to shoulder dislocations and rotator cuff tears. For this reason, I'm never pacified when people say they reached out for a railing to catch themselves before they fell.
I'm just a clumsy person. This tells me the person has likely had multiple falls and is a major reason why they need to learn strategies to improve awareness of their surroundings, to quicken their reflexes and to improve their physical strength to avoid falls in the future.
I tripped and fell, but I landed on something soft, so it's okay. It's only a matter of time before the landing site isn't so comfy, so we need to discuss how to identify and remove trip and fall hazards in the home and ways to improve balance so falling isn't so commonplace.
I didn't lift my foot up high enough when I stepped up the curb. This takes some investigation on my part because maybe it was a simple misstep, but not being able to lift one's leg or foot could be due to an underlying condition including things like arthritis, disc herniations in the low back, muscular weakness, neuropathy, spinal stenosis, etc...
My house was too dark and I couldn't see where I was going. This requires a multi-faceted solution. Light-activated night lights leading to bathrooms are a must. Having your vision checked yearly is another. If you wear glasses, you should put them on, even if you're only walking a few steps. It's a fact that most falls happen in our homes, and it's because we're most comfortable there, which results in our being less aware than if we were in a new place.
I was exhausted that day. Here's where I need to make sure the person is sleeping adequately. Sometimes a referral to the PCP and then a sleep study reveals apnea, which often explains why people are feeling such extreme fatigue. I need to assess whether the person is staying hydrated and if their diet is balanced and their caloric intake is sufficient. Underlying medical conditions must be reviewed, and sometimes I need to encourage the person to schedule an appointment with their physician to have a physical examination, to have the doctor review medications, dosages, interactions and side effects, and/or to get blood drawn.
I wasn't paying attention to where I was walking. The most commonly stated positive feedback we've received from the participants of our Boost My Balance™ classes is the new-found awareness not only of people's surroundings, but also of the awareness of their bodies and how they move about in the world. Being aware of how to properly move and navigate from one position to another makes a huge difference in improving one's sense of balance.
I usually fall up my stairs and not down them, so it's not a big deal. In my opinion, if a person is so unsteady that they can't walk up stairs, then I'm not confident they can navigate very well going down them either. It's only a matter of time before a fall occurs while going downstairs, which is when more serious injures take place.
I was wearing flip-flops...new shoes...slippers...high heels... I discuss how wearing one shoe over another affects our sense of balance. Sometimes we feel the Earth better under our feet when we're barefoot, but that changes when I'm talking to a person with conditions such as M.S., spinal stenosis, Parkinson's Disease, diabetic neuropathy, etc. People with underlying medical conditions require the stability of a shoe while they're moving about. So as you see, I've heard a myriad of reasons as to why people fall, but deeper investigation uncovers hidden, underlying truths that have to be addressed so falls and their unnecessary complications can be avoided in the future.
In the 17 years I’ve had my exercise and movement studio, there has been a fair share of folks who admitted to disliking exercise. Maybe that’s you. So let’s take a step back. and start with this: Let's shift the way you think about exercise.
For starters, don’t even call it exercise. I don’t. My education is in Exercise Physiology with a full Pilates Certification and yet I stay far, far away from the “E” word.
Exercise is something you do to your body. Don’t do. Find a way to be in your body. This is a whole different space. And one you might really enjoy. Can you call it movement? Movement allows for freedom. It can be playful, non-exertional, fun, fantastic, engaging, experimental and wholly healthy to your beingness.
Remember, motion is lotion. Lotion in your joints and also as a liquid healer in your ribcage and spine, the very foundational structure from which you move and live life.
In his national bestseller, The Culture Code, Clotaire Rapaille offers us a way to understand our behaviors as human beings and the unconscious codes that drive them. A most fascinating chapter reveals the code for health and wellness as movement. “Movement makes us feel healthy, it confirms we are alive." Oh so true!
Let me ask you to do this for a moment: Imagine not being able to do what you want in life because you can’t take action. You can’t take action because something has happened to you through a trauma or an accident. You’re stuck. You can’t move and do what you want because your life has changed for the short term or possibly even longer. Have you ever experienced that or knew someone who has?
A possible loss of movement can be devastating. It makes a drastic statement about your own health and well-being. It robs you of opportunities and possibilities. It’s downright frightening! I’m not trying to be an alarmist by any means. But think about it. We want to believe that if we live active and engaged lives, we’ll stay healthy. And you can.
What’s included in active engagement? Mobility, agility and resilience. You’re able to move, you’re nimble and you can bounce back (all without using the word “exercise”). Now you’re workin’ it. Can you feel it? Becoming a better version of yourself is about enjoying life without heaviness or the burden of “have to”. It’s learning how to weave in a slow, sustainable build.
A slow build like this can sneak under your radar in a good way. Over time that slow sneak will build and become a good, solid habit. This sort of build takes time. And it should if you want quality. It’s about making small, consistent shifts.
Another word to omit is the word ‘change’. Change can be daunting. Let’s use ‘shift’ instead and use it as a precursor to change. Change sometimes feels too much like a force if we try to drive it in at the beginning of anything. Sometimes trying to force something feels like pushing or even shoving. And that’s an effortful expenditure of energy. Don’t push – rather consider the act of pulling. There’s your shift.
Pulling has a precious power to it. It requires you to be grounded or you're going to fall. Making these small, consistent shifts is a simple, sensible and practical way to feel better about your personal progress. Pulling is like teasing it along. Slow and steady is a win-win. It’s not about forcing change and making headway. You’re not steering a big ship on rough seas. You’re in this for the long, productive, sustainable haul. Be the slow and steady pull.
It will be rewarding when you begin to see how you’ve acclimated to new choices through the small, consistent shifts you set up. And here’s where you can become a better version of yourself. Be accountable. Experience the fruits of your own solid efforts because you have stacked up the conditions to make it happen for yourself. That's the cornerstone of a successful conversion.
Self-accountability is one of the best sustainable resources for personal, authentic success and one that can help you have a clearer, more meaningful and enjoyable journey.
Show up for yourself. You’re worth it. Now get out there and create a new you 2.0.
I found myself gleefully jumping up & down and sideways when I read this article in the NY Times. You know why? Because it speaks a message that has been slowly gaining meaningful strength and one you should take seriously.
It has to do with balance, motor skills, your brain and real world usage.
Even though the message headlines as "Balance", the author unpacks it brilliantly by admitting something we do a lot – isolate balance exercises.
Isolating is okay, but when all you do is practice exercises that confine you, you're not serving yourself in a well-rounded way, which includes your brain. There's an emerging body of meaningful research you should pay attention to (no matter what your age).
And it aligns with the message in the NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/07/opinion/sunday/finding-the-right-balance.html, which is this: It is a “suite of abilities and gross motor skills” that rewires our brains for physical improvement and NOT buzz words and pieces & parts – like "cardio, abs and strength training. Improving your balance is trickier than you think. Simple balance exercises alone won’t achieve what you want – it is novelty and unpredictability, rather than repetition, that are essential to keep your brain engaged.”