The Life Story of Your Balance System....Can You Find Out Where You Are On The Timeline?
The similarities between a wobbly toddler learning to walk and an older adult who has problems with their balance are striking. That young child falls quite a bit when they are learning to walk. But they eventually become successful and improve daily. The reverse is often true as we age into the “golden years.”
Why does our strength and balance get worse when we get older? Hint…it has nothing to do with the number of years we’ve been on earth. Weakness and balance difficulties are not simply normal parts of getting older, despite what many people think.
Why do we get weak and unsteady when we get older? One of the main reasons is that we stop moving the way we did when we were younger. You see, when the wobbly toddler stage is over, you embark on several decades of activity that move your body in many different directions and different speeds. The general result is that your balance system gets regular practice at keeping you steady with all different movements and body positions.
Obviously, this occurs through youth and into early adulthood. But as our lives become more and more busy and more and more filled with responsibilities, we begin to neglect activities that replicate those same movements. Also, as years go by, we move not only less but mostly in a forward direction with walking. Of the 360 degrees in a circle around our body and really from a spherical or ball perspective (pretend you are in a large ball and all the different ways your body can move), when we get older, we generally just walk straight ahead. That drastically limits the movement practice that our body and brain need for us to have good balance. In addition, in general terms, as adults we sit more often than we did in our younger years. Sitting weakens your muscles to a great extent. Weak and slow muscles don't do a good job at fighting gravity.
If lack of movement practice for your body and brain causes you to get weak and have a balance system that is not doing its job, then implementing regular movement would logically be the antidote.
And that is why, once again, I will encourage you all to exercise. And do it consistently. If you don’t know what to do or need some specific training, a physical therapist is simply an amazing choice to help you on that journey.
PTs are experts in human movement and should be a vital part of your healthcare team as an older adult. Wobble no more so that you can enjoy life safely for longer.
Remember, it’s not the falling that is the problem. It’s hitting the ground that can be devastating.
Finally, wobble is a really fun word to say, isn’t it? Be good and do good!!