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Falls and Balance – part 3

5 days to go

Balance results from three inputs: vision, inner ear and proprioception. Proprioception is how your body knows what position it is in and is fed by sensors in our joints, muscles and skin. An example is how you can touch your nose with your finger when your eyes are closed. It’s a highly complex interplay of sensors, nerves, muscles and reflexes and requires speed, reaction, flexibility and strength.  If walking on uneven ground and tripped, your body would adjust its muscle activity to take corrective action and the arms may be flung out to assist with balance. This requires muscle strength, power, speed and flexibility and happens unconsciously via reflexes without us directing thought towards the correction.

Another exercise would be to stand on one leg, fix your vision on one spot then close your eyes. You will immediately feel your leg muscles working hard to compensate for the loss of the visual input as the sensors including information from the inner ear feed into to the nervous systems that reflexly activates muscles to maintain your balance. (Safety note: Stand close to something you can grab hold of if you do try this).

We know we are likely to develop age related changes if not health problems affecting eyes and ears and neuromuscular system. However, there’s a lot we can do to maximise our neuromuscular system. We know that we start to lose lean muscle from as early as our 30s but we also know that we can decrease the rate by which we lose muscle by doing regular strength training, particularly resistance training and high intensity interval training.  Ideally, three sessions a week are best but any are better than none. These types of strength training will work all the above mentioned aspects of the muscular system. They don’t have to be done in a gym, there’s lots of options to do this at home and they don’t need to be lengthy sessions either. Strength training not only decreases the rate of loss of muscle strength but can also reverse it helping to reduce the risk of falls and injury and generally improving quality of life…….and it’s never too late to start.

The image above speaks volumes. The top and bottom MRI scans are sections of the thigh from trained athletes. In practice, regular strength training will mean you are more likely to have good muscle mass like these than the MRI image in the middle of the sedentary individual in his 70s. Note the bone loss, smaller white circular tissue in the sedentary individual too.

This has been the briefest of overviews – please get in touch if you’d like to know more.


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