This week we introduce the final element of the 10-week workout routine: equilibrium, or balance, exercises. You may have heard about balance exercises as a way for the elderly to ward off falls, but they're important for everyone, at every age, says Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon, author of Fitness After 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age, and designer of our plan. Here's an edited version of our conversation about balance.
When does our balance start to go?
It erodes starting in the late 30s and progressively gets worse. People will notice that when they bend over to pick something up, they have to put a hand down to help them. You may be able to naturally stave off some age-related declines if you're continuing to do exercise that requires keen balance—maybe a tennis player lunging for a ball, or maybe golf. If you're just a runner going in a straight line down the road, it doesn't really work your balance. I have a lot of patients who come to my office who are in good shape but have poor balance.
What makes balance get worse with age?
It's multifactorial. Vision is a big part—as our vision deteriorates, our perception changes. And the hair cells within our ears change with age, too. What you can retrain are the neuromuscular pathways from your brain to your muscles. If you're not asking them to be fast and fire quickly, they get lazy, just like the rest of us. It's not just about your balance; it's about not spraining your ankle when you're stepping off the curb or tripping when you speed up to pass someone on the sidewalk. You want your body perceiving changes in the terrain.
What can balance exercises do for people who are already sporty and active?
They can help reduce injuries, especially around the ankle and knee. And [balance exercises] can increase your core strength.
[Check out other blog posts related to our 10-week workout routine: Here are 7 tips to shake up your strength routine. And when it comes to aerobic exercise, here's how hard you should work out. Plus, what about diet?]