Falls cause devastating injuries for many older adults that lead to fracture, bed rest, loss of muscle and that downward spiral costs millions annually.
That’s no surprise.
What is a surprise is the loss of muscle that causes these falls starts when you’re 30 if you’re not doing something about it. Muscle losses occur for decades before you notice. Most importantly, fast twitch muscle fiber loss happens twice as quickly [as slow twitch] as you age. Yet fewer women are training right to keep fast twitch muscle.
Balance exercises alone won’t help you prevent falls. You need fast twitch muscle. If you’ve lost it you can get it back.
You rely on fast twitch muscle for reaction skills. That is, when it’s a little slippery, or you catch your toe on the rug, you can react quickly and right yourself if you have fast twitch fibers. If you’re not training specifically for them you’re at greater risk of falling, even at 50, let alone decades later.
Long before that “senior shuffle” begins you are at risk of what we call “unfortunate incidents.” It’s those random events that cause you to slow down, be inactive for a period of time, and lose confidence. It could be Meniere’s disease, a dose of blood pressure medication, or a broken toe. Setbacks can be minimal with the right combination of strength, agility, and balance exercises.
Strength Train with Heavier Weights
Light weights and Pilates serve a purpose but they don’t help you with fast twitch muscle recovery or maintenance. If fear of falling isn’t enough to inspire you, fast twitch fibers also play a huge role in your metabolism. Heavy weights cause fatigue at 10 or fewer repetitions. Work your way up to it on joints that can handle it. Try power instead for other joints, which is adding a faster lift combined with a slower lower. You’re still in control but benefit fast twitch muscle more this way than constantly lifting slow.
If you want to be able to move your feet when it counts, you’ve got to move them fast when you’re training. Spend a few minutes most days a week doing fast moves. If you play tennis, racquetball, badminton or pickle ball you’ve got this kind of movement built in. If you primarily walk, or ride slow and steady, add a few short agility drills to the end of each workout.
When do you risk losing your balance?
You have a grocery bag in one arm, your purse over your shoulder, you’re searching for your keys, and it’s just slippery enough to make that a challenge.
You’ve got popcorn in one arm, your coat in the other, and you’re climbing over knees to get to your seat when someone calls your name.
You’re teetering on those killer heels you rarely wear, really meant for sitting, and the floor of the hall feels newly polished.
You do practice yoga on your mat, by yourself, in calm serene environment. How is that helpful?
Never forget that the goal is not to get better at balance exercises. The goal is to get better at life. To do that your balance-enhancing work should be done under conditions similar to those conditions where you risk losing your balance.
There are three ways to improve the effectiveness of your balance practice. If you’ve got those balance poses in yoga down or you’ve been practicing balance at your kitchen counter daily, it’s time to take that foundation and make it more functional.
Start with balance exercises you’re already doing and add one of these options at a time. If you’re not already doing balance exercises regularly start with a simple stork stand (one leg) in shoes and move to doing it barefoot when you’ve got that. Continue to challenge yourself.
Life is likely to keep you off balance until the end. But you’ve got this.