Prevent emergencies with Tai-Chi, Yoga, Pilates, dancing and whole foods rich in Potassium, iron and other vitamins and minerals. We should also not over medicate as most medications can affect your brain and balance.
Dr Mercola on Tai-Chi for balance and preventing a trip to the emergency room.
- Balance is important to athletic performance, work and in reducing the number of seniors who fall each year, which drives direct medical health care costs to $31 billion
- Tai chi has demonstrated improvements in balance, strength and flexibility in the elderly, which may potentially have an impact on the 800,000 people hospitalized each year after a fall
- Benefits of tai chi also include improved cognitive performance, increased brain volume and reduced stress; integrating other balance training may add variety to your routine
By Dr. Mercola
Balance is extraordinarily important in your life. Whether you’re older than 65 years or younger, both your body and mind require balance to achieve optimal health. Unfortunately, many spend hours behind a desk each day, increasing their risk of impairing muscle development and losing strength and balance.
Many exercise programs engage the use of machines for cardiovascular work without improving balance and coordination. The elderly experience more risk from poor balance, as it increases the potential for falling and a subsequent bone break.
It can be easy to take your ability to walk, move and balance for granted. But, like all things in life, without practice your skill level diminishes. Going up and down stairs, getting up from a chair and picking up something off the floor are all everyday activities that require balance.
To successfully train your balance requires performing movements that closely approximate these activities, or activities that commonly result in falls. In new research, participants who engaged in the practice of tai chi had a significantly reduced risk of falling and demonstrated improved balance.1
How Do You Balance?
What may seem like a simple task is actually a complex coordination of several different bodily systems. Your sensory systems give your brain accurate feedback about your relative position in space; your brain processes the information, and your muscles and joints coordinate the movement necessary to stay upright.
Inner ear infections, inability to sense the ground or loss of eyesight are just a few of the conditions which may significantly impact your body’s ability to sense the environment and react appropriately. For the most part, balance is on “auto-pilot,” or done subconsciously without significant effort.
If you experience a balance problem, focusing on staying balanced may increase fatigue and shorten your attention span. With age, some people find they get dizzy or unsteady when in motion. This can be a combination of environmental sensory integration and muscle strength.
The list of disorders that trigger balance problems includes positional vertigo, Meniere’s disease and vestibular neuronitis,2 to name a few. Balance problems are among the more common reasons the elderly seek a physician’s advice. While a disturbance in the inner ear is one common cause, so are loss of neuromuscular integration, muscle tone and strength.
Tai Chi May Reduce Your Risk of Falls
In a meta-analysis of 18 different studies involving over 3,800 participants who were 65 years and older, researchers determined those who practiced tai chi at least once weekly had a 20 percent lower chance of falling than those who did not practice tai chi.’3
The researchers compared senior students against how much time they spent practicing tai chi, the style and the falling risk for the individuals. They found any amount of tai chi exercise was associated with a lower risk of falling as compared to control groups. As the frequency of the sessions increased from once weekly to three times weekly, the risk reduction jumped from 5 to 64 percent.
The researchers felt performing tai chi improved the participant’s knee extension strength, flexibility and balance, and reduced the risk of falls. As this was a meta-analysis, the researchers were only able to measure the variables previous studies had included. Dr. Chenchen Wang, director of the Center for Complimentary and Integrative Medicine at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, commented on the results:4
“Many important components include: exercise, breathing techniques, awareness of the body, focused attention, mindfulness, balance and function, visualization and relaxation. These components also positively impact health by improving self-efficacy, psychosocial functioning, and depression and can help patients bolster self-confidence, which also helps balance and coordination to avoid falls.”
Preserving Independence and Cost
Nearly 40 percent of people over 65, and half of those over 80, will fall in any given year. Falling is the leading cause of injury death in people over age 65 and 1 in 3 Americans over 65 will fall each year.5 Over 800,000 older adults are hospitalized each year after a fall, many because of a broken hip or head injury.6
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls in older adults cost nearly $31 billion in direct medical healthcare costs. As the number of aging people in the U.S. is rising, the CDC estimates both the number of falls and the total health care cost to treat individuals will only continue to rise.7
These cost estimates do not account for out-of-pocket family expenses to care for the individual after hospital release, time away from work, or homecare expenses not covered by Medicare or insurance. The total cost of a fall and subsequent injury in the elderly is significant, but not inevitable with practical lifestyle adjustments and balance training.
The National Council on Aging developed a Falls Free initiative to address public health issues, injuries and death from falls in the elderly.8 The initiative includes a coalition of over 70 organizations working toward educating older adults on fall prevention. A fall is one of the greatest risk factors for the elderly to lose their independence,9 which in turn is associated with the development of depression.10
Moreover, depression often complicates other health conditions the elderly may suffer, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and is associated with an increase in healthcare costs.11 Even living at home, but being unable to drive, doubles the risk the elderly may suffer depression.12
The longer individuals are able to stay independent, both physically and cognitively, the lower the risk of depression, which in turn has an impact on healthcare costs and the burden on the family. Implementing effective preventive strategies may reduce falls and improve quality of life.