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What Does Balance Say about Health?

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This simple, often neglected skill can pay huge dividends later in life.

Beck & Lenox Estate Planning and Elder Law, Inc. meets with a lot of aging adults each week and has seen the impact poor balance has on some of them. What does balance say about health? Being able to balance oneself is an important skill, one that’s often neglected and can lead to more serious injuries than most people know. It impacts longevity and quality of life, starting around age 40 and becoming more important as people age, according to a recent article from The New York Times, which asks “Can You Pass the 10-Second Balance Test?”

A study by a Brazilian team in June 2022 found that 20% of 1,700 older adults were unable to balance on one leg for ten seconds or more. This inability to balance was associated with a twofold risk of death from any cause within a decade.

It’s never too late to start working on balance training, even if you can pass the ten second test, and especially important if you’re over age 50.

Why is balance so important for seniors? Falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide, yet there’s no standardized medical test to predict or protect from their impact. In the Ten Second Balance Test, you get three tries to do a ten-second one-legged stand, on either leg. The test was created by a professor at Stanford University who is also a researcher at the Palo Alto VA Health Care System and an author of the Brazilian balance study.

With age, strength and balance tend to decrease, leading to frailty. Balance problems can be caused by a number of factors, many which are the direct result of aging. Vision impaired by cataracts, for example, makes it more difficult to balance. Slower nerve signals from the feet to the brain also contribute to poor balance.

How to fight back? Specialized training and strength building are a senior’s best friend. Those who don’t walk, exercise, or do balance training become weaker as time goes on. Muscle weakness is another important risk factor for falls.

Researchers have previously connected the importance of balance and strength with mortality. The ability to rise from the floor to a standing position with ease, balance on one leg for thirty seconds with one eye closed and even walk at a brisk pace are all tied to longer lives. However, there’s no one test.

One balance professional, who runs the Center for Balance and offers Tai Chi classes, said the Brazilian study created a lot of worry among students who tried and failed the ten second test. They range in age from 30 to 105. He advised them not to worry, and others to train themselves to improve.

The stronger the muscles in legs, thighs, feet and abdomen, the better your balance will be. Experts advise seniors to talk with their physician first, and start moving, with simple balance exercises two to three times a week. It’s never too late to start working on balance training. What does balance say about health? The answer is quite clear.

Reference: The New York Times (Aug. 12, 2022) “Can You Pass the 10-Second Balance Test?”



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