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Marzena showing us the wonderful balance poses in yoga

Today Megan had some time between classes so she whipped me up a blog and chose to talk about the importance of balance. Funnily enough in yoga tonight Marzena got us doing lots of balance poses in our yoga class (and I just had to snap her for this blog). This time we are not talking about work-life balance – although that is always critically important – we are talking about the fine line between staying upright and having a fall. I’ve been acutely aware of the importance of good balance over the past three weeks as Mum has been in hospital and is struggling with her balance at the moment.

Mum had a Total Hip Replacement (THR) 3 weeks ago and she won’t mind me saying (I hope) that at a few days shy of 93 that is no mean feat. Of course Prince Philip was the catalyst for a decision that should have been made 10 years ago.

6 weeks post op and Prince Philip walking down the aisle STICK-LESS gave hope to all the oldies contemplating surgery!

Mum has had a painful right hip for a long time but always felt she was too old to go under the knife and so kept saying ‘no’. But when I saw Prince Philip who at 96 had a THR skip down the aisle at Harry and Meghan’s wedding and then watched Mum in absolute agony walking a few days later, I put it to her that perhaps it was time to contemplate the unthinkable- surgery at 93. We went to the Orthopod (I don’t think we can mention his name because of AHPRA) who didn’t even blink at her age. He just said there are 2 alternatives – and the THR will get rid of the pain, the other will give you 18 months pain-free maybe if you’re lucky. I wouldn’t comment and wanted Mum to make the decision, but my aunt Jen kept saying ‘do it, do it, do it’ and next thing she had committed! It was a torrid first 10 days but she was a trooper and now is just pounding the parallel bars at the gym in Rehab daily and home is on the horizon. So this #balance blog is dedicated to you Mum! Megan’s blog follows.

We all expect that our balance will get worse as we get older but should it??  Is this another of those natural processes of ageing that we must roll over and accept and what does it matter if our balance does get worse anyway?  Whilst there are some age-related changes that will impact our balance functions, we must remember the brain is plastic and we can adapt to these changes and find new ways to maintain control and keep our balance function.  This is important in reducing the risk of falls and injury which as we get older has an increasingly significant impact on our lifestyle and ability.

A recent trial conducted in aged care facilities in NSW and Qld had 221 residents perform resistance training and balance exercise for 50 hours over 25 weeks and then a maintenance program for the following 6 months.  The results were a significant drop in falls amongst participants.  (Sunbeam trial 1).  Interestingly, the participants also commented on how much the program improved their general quality of life.

How much do we need to challenge our balance to improve?  How hard should these exercises be?  The reality is that how much balance work you need to do will be individual.  The exercises themselves don’t need to be too hard, just enough to give you a bit of a wobble.  You should start small, maybe a few minutes a day, and as you improve you can progress the challenge.

There’s many easy exercises that you can do to challenge your balance at home.  The main key is to be safe when you are doing them.  Always challenge your balance in a situation where you can grab hold of something if you need to.  You can try with and without footwear, eyes open and closed, and on different (always non-slip) surfaces.  Try to feel how your body balances, the sway is normal and you are trying to control the amount of sway, not stop it completely.  This is our body learning better balance.

Start simply, such as standing on one leg, or standing heel to toe.  You can add eyes closed, or maybe a pillow underfoot.  You can move the leg that is off the floor around, turn your trunk or throw a ball.  It may be tricky at first, but persistence pays off.

How can you tell if your balance is improving? The easiest way is to count how many seconds you can stand on one leg.  Then as this becomes easy, how long can you stand on one leg in more challenging positions such as eyes closed.   

In our Studio 194 Pilates classes we always include at least one element of balance and the class members comment on how much they enjoy the challenge and how they notice their balance improving in daily life.  The key is to do it regularly and do it safely.  You may never want to ride on a stand up paddle board but I have seen plenty 60 plus year olds on the water in my regular paddles so I know it can be done!!  Good balance is animportant life skill, and should be part of everyone’s daily routine.

Thanks Megan for this great blog. And everyone always remember to challenge yourself to do more, move more and not say I can’t I’m too old.