Midlife is a time when we should be active and still aspiring to achieve the things that life can offer. It’s not a time for feeling unsteady on our pins and worrying about falling over. We can improve balance and coordination at any time, there’s no need to wait until it’s too late.
Aging, the one thing you cannot really stop, happens to all of us over time. Our body becomes weaker, but it’s not solely just loss. We still get to become wiser and more experienced, well some do.
While the effects of age on your body are diverse and widespread, here we focus on —balance, coordination, stability and mobility. It’s something that can be slowed down, and its effects can be mitigated. There are things you can do to maintain balance and stability and even improving them if you’re starting from a low base.
Worsening mobility is often an early and visible result of getting on in years and the lack of coordination is another frustrating element that is often overlooked until you’re trying to do simple things (in your brain) that were accomplished in no time at all in those younger days.
Getting the Balance Right
- Inner ears
- Joints and muscles
Sensory information is sent to your brain from the other three systems, where it is collated, processed and eventually provides another part of your brain with a sense of your body’s position and posture in relation to your surroundings.
Your central nervous system uses a mix of postural adjustments to maintain your balance. Your body can work around any change in its posture and position. It shifts your center of mass and center of pressure to keep the balance either in anticipation of movement, like when you’re taking a step forward or in compensation for one.
Like when you almost slip and don’t end up falling. In this case, an autonomic process should take place which puts right the wrong although aging or an associated injury can deny this ability.
As we age, the resulting effects start to appear at varying rates over all of these systems. Your eyesight is not as sharp as it once was. The vestibular system in your ear—which is responsible for providing information to the brain regarding motion, position, and orientation—starts to deteriorate, which weakens your sensation of balance.
Both your skeletal muscles and joints also become less capable of maintaining balance and stability, therefore, providing poor feedback to the brain.
Coordination and Aging
The process of coordination in your body involves a combination of two systems—the visual system and the musculoskeletal system. Sensory information from your muscles, joints, and eyes are combined and then processed.
Accordingly, your brain starts producing a set of planned movements by activating different muscle groups in your body to perform the intended task.
For older people, there’s evidence that the deterioration of motor coordination skills is a result of certain things:
- Degeneration of central and peripheral nervous systems.
- Dysfunctional changes in muscles and joints.
- The aging of the eyes.
These shortfalls in motor skills such that your movements become slower, less strong, stable, smooth, and of greater variability can ordinarily really kick in around age 60.
Stability and Aging
Postural stability is defined as your body’s ability to maintain an upright position. It comes in two forms: static and dynamic, where static refers to your ability to stay upright while not moving, and dynamic refers to staying upright during movement.
It might seem like a simple task on the outside. But beneath the surface, complex processes involving the cerebellum, the muscular and skeletal systems are behind the maintenance of posture. With aging, postural instability increases for various reasons but all amounts to a decline in the cognitive process.
Preserving Balance, Coordination, and Stability
The good news is that there are many ways by which we can improve balance and coordination as well as your stability as you grow older lessening the risk of falls in later life.
The reduced balance, coordination, stability and mobility can all be delayed and improved as we age by maintaining strength and flexibility through physical activity.
Here we explore a few of them in detail and see how they work to this effect.
Exercising your body is one of the most effective ways to reduce the effects of aging. It has been shown that performing home exercises in midlife and even walking can help improve your balance as you age.
Some of the exercises for balance include:
- Walking sideways.
- Walking heel-to-toe.
- One-leg stands.
Balance is not the only thing that improves with exercise. Coordination as well becomes a lot better with the right training regime, and your cognition becomes enhanced as the years pass.
Exercises that improve coordination include:
- One-leg stands while tossing a ball between both your hands.
- Contralateral marching, where the arm and leg on opposite sides are raised and held together, alternating between both arms and legs.
- Ipsilateral marching, where the arm and leg on the same side are raised and held together, alternating between sides.
- Walking back and forth while bouncing a ball off the floor, catching it on the bounce back.
- Performing squats and side squats.
As for postural stability, it has been shown that control over one’s posture, and keeping yourself stable is improved for the elderly through balance exercises.
These exercises along with strength and cardio activities will roll back the years as long as they are done regularly – 3 times a week or why not put aside 20 minutes every day and really get fit.
Strength training can involve weights, resistance machines or your own body weight. Cardio activities can be brisk walking, swimming, dancing cycling or any number of ‘out of the comfy chair’ delights. It can be as gentle or as tough as you can manage.
Short for T’ai chi ch’uan, it’s an ancient form of martial arts that originated in China. Tai Chi is the archetypal balance and stability form of exercise especially for the middling to late years but is also popular with younger generations.
It’s an art that attempts to harmonize the body’s energy with its physical form. This happens through the combination of posture, breathing, and your conscious state both while moving and while remaining still.
Despite the old age of the art, it survives to this day and continues to evolve, with many schools creating their own nuanced form of Tai Chi while still sticking to its fundamental principles. It involves a series of slow movements where you turn, shift your weight over your legs with various movements of both the arms and the legs.
This constitutes a total body exercise, where these slow and relaxed movements improve the blood circulation through the contraction and expansion of muscles. They also help loosen up your spine and your ribs. You also have the time and pace to take deep breaths, improving your body’s oxygen intake.
Of the many forms of Tai Chi that exist, the most famous and simple one is the 24-form movement, also called the simplified form. The form is composed of a series of movements that happen over 24 different postures.
It has been demonstrated that Tai Chi is effective as an option for the elderly to maintain their balance and coordination, along with stability. Consequently, it makes it a great choice for older people who wish to improve these attributes as well as engage in something different and unique.
One huge advantage of Tai Chi is that you don’t need to go to a gym nor use any kind of exercising equipment. All you need is a quiet setting, a good mat or carpet, and your still mind and willingness to do it. It’s pretty good at relieving tension, too, almost like giving yourself a massage.
An ancient Indian practice that possibly dates back all the way to the third millennium BC, it’s rooted in religion, later on taking a more philosophical form. It has changed a lot with the years.
Outside of India, in the modern age, it has become a popular, much sought after form of exercise without any religious elements involved. It focuses on switching between still postures (asanas) and moving sequences (visyanas), all while maintaining some form of rhythmic breathing (pranayama).
On top of all this, learning to regulate your breathing is very beneficial to your body. You learn how to breathe more properly without having to be conscious of it. This is how you get to have and maintain high oxygen levels throughout your arteries.
The positive effects of yoga on balance and coordination through improving mobility is known and has been demonstrated time and time again.
Diet and Sleep
Two very important things, yet sometimes underestimated, when it comes to keeping the detrimental effects of aging at bay, including balance, coordination, and stability.
Eating a balanced diet that’s measured in calories and contains a good amount of antioxidants is one of the most powerful ways to slow down the effects of aging, not just for your balance, coordination, and stability, but over your entire body. We are, after all, what we eat.
Getting a good night’s sleep is also important. Sleep is the time where your body’s repair mechanisms are activated as well as the time where it conserves energy. The body’s ‘housekeeping’ takes place when new cell growth occurs.
It becomes important to develop healthy sleeping habits, especially as we hit midlife and age. Besides, who wouldn’t enjoy a good night’s sleep, waking up to feel well-rested the next day?
Tools That Can Help
There are a couple of practical tools you may want to invest in that can help preserve, maintain, and enhance balance, coordination, and stability.
Balance Boards and BOSU Balls
You would think that unstable surfaces should be avoided at all costs if you want to maintain balance. I’m not saying you should climb up rickety steps or attempt cobblestones, though.
BOSU balls and similar devices are built to test your balance and build strength. Picture half a medicine ball on a flat platform. Now, imagine standing on the medicine ball without falling—I don’t care what you say, that’s not easy regardless of how old you are.
Still, there’s a definite payoff if you practice. Unstable surfaces build core strength, which in turn can boost balance and stability. There’s no shame in holding onto something when you first start out; you don’t want unnecessary falls.
For example, balance boards are proven to improve standing balance in older folks. It makes sense: if you can hold upright on tough terrain, you should manage fine in the comfort of your own home or during everyday activities.
If you don’t have severe issues with balance, you may want to try a trampoline session a few times a week.
Not only is trampolining a great way to feel young again—I used to love playing at being a gymnast as a kid—but it can improve your equilibrium significantly. Stroke patients practicing trampoline training thrice weekly for 30 minutes at a time demonstrated improved gait and balance.
All that jumping can help to build muscles that improve coordination and stability. If you feel unsteady, you can try standing and lightly bouncing before you attempt going all-out.
The most important thing to remember is that you should always try your best to be physically active. There are many habits you can acquire and incorporate in your daily activities.
You can always take the stairs, for example, instead of using elevators or escalators if you’re not going up too many floors. You can also always take the opportunity to walk when you can. There’s no need to use cars or other transport if your errands are within walking distance.
Don’t miss the chance to participate in doing chores around the house or garden. Especially things that involve more physical activity, like moving furniture around or cleaning the floors or taking out the trash. Digging the garden – now that can be tough.
If you can ride a bike, do it more often. If you don’t know how to ride a bike, maybe it’s time you give it a try. It’s not hard to master and would work wonders improving your overall balance and coordination. Besides, you can also use it to run your errands instead of or in addition to walking. You also get to reduce your carbon imprint.
Never allow yourself to stay still or lie still for too long if you’re not tired. Avoiding a sedentary lifestyle is the best and simplest strategy you have to maintain your balance, coordination, and stability, getting stronger and fitter in the meantime. Physical activity does not need to be extreme, but doing it moderately, and regularly is all your body needs to maintain its own vitality and well-being.
While aging can have its perks in the sense that you become wiser and more mature, it doesn’t make your body any better or stronger. Yet, with the right type of approach, the effects can be reduced.
Maintaining your balance, coordination, and stability as you age is not a hard task to do or to keep on doing. Incorporating a few physical exercises in your daily routine is very beneficial for this. If you feel inclined to try something a bit different, you can opt for Tai Chi or yoga.
Most importantly, make it a habit to eat healthy food without excess and also never miss a chance to keep your body physically active in your day-to-day activities.
You don’t need to go to a gym. You don’t need exercise equipment. All this you can do at home without any difficulty or need to purchase new things for it.