Aging and chronic conditions can impact balance and longevity. When you lack good physical balance, it can be difficult to recover from slips and avoid falls. Many people experience balance issues particularly as they age from poor posture, medication, neurological issues, or chronic pain conditions. The good news is, that there are ways to train your body to support proper balance.
As we age, research has proven a link between the ability to balance and longevity.1 Balance disorders often overlap with falls and other mobility issues. Unfortunately, this can lead to a significant risk of harm and even death from serious falls.
Falls are a huge problem for hospitals due to the high population of patients who are in a weakened or compromised physical and/or mental state.2 Hospitals have been putting a lot of resources into decreasing patient fall risks and fall reporting has been required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) since 2008. However, the impact of the CMS no-pay policy on hospital-acquired falls, while proven to increase the implementation of Nursing prevention measures to reduce falls, has not proven to be effective in reducing fall rates according to one study.3 Hospital clinicians need to be aware that increases in patient-reported symptoms, sleep disturbances, fatigue, or diarrhea can increase the risk of falls.4
Falls are also a risk even in your own home. Millions of people fall at home each year according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and one in five experience a significant injury. Risk is increased especially if you suffer from physical problems impacting your mobility. Examples may include chronic pain (arthritis, fibromyalgia), impaired neurological functioning (stroke, diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease), or neurocognitive disorders (Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia) impacting balance.
Here are some ways to predict the risk of falling:
- Self-screen for falls risk or have a professional falls risk evaluation. There are a number of tools that have been studied for reliability.5–11 However, assessment tools may not be totally reliable in of themselves.
- Get your blood pressure checked both lying down and standing to make sure that you don’t have orthostatic hypotension. Hypotension can lead to dizziness and an increased risk of falling.
- Evaluate your environment. If you have an unsafe home or work environment, where there is clutter, loose rugs, and obstacles present in your walking pathway, this can increase the risk of falls. Nurses and other health professionals can evaluate your home environment for fall risk and early interventions to avoid falls. 12
- Reliance on opioids, alcohol, sedatives or other mind-altering drugs or medications can either directly impact balance or cause drowsiness or mental fogginess.
- Perform a 10-second balance test. For people over 50 years old, a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine demonstrated that not being able to stand on one foot for 10 seconds was associated with a higher risk of death from all causes within the next decade.1
Here are 8 ways to Improve your balance to support healthy aging and improve your longevity:
- Exercise regularly and consistently within your capabilities. Consult your health care provider for guidance on exercise.
- Change up forms of exercise to promote different types of movement and help to promote resilience, strength, balance, and mobility.
- Take appropriate safety precautions with exercise. Here’s a guide for easy tips to exercise safely when you have chronic pain.
- Reduce sedative medications or alcohol intake that may cause drowsiness or fogginess.
- Get adequate sleep. Lack of quality sleep promotes drowsiness and can increase the risk of falls.
- Stand up slowly from a seated or lying position to avoid drops in blood pressure that can lead to dizziness.
- Use an assistive walking device when needed to help you balance, whether it is a cane, pronged walking device, walker, or trekking poles.
- Get your eyesight checked and use correction when needed. Keep your eyeglasses within reach and put them on before getting out of bed. Be aware that certain disease states may affect peripheral vision such as Parkinson’s Disease.13
Select Forms of exercise that can improve balance:
Mind-body therapies have been studied in a number of chronic conditions for safety and effectiveness in improving balance, strength, and mobility. 14
- Tai Chi has been studied extensively for its ability to improve balance and strength and prevent falls in a number of chronic conditions. 15–20
- Qi Gong can be a safe and effective practice to help those with chronic arthritis pain. 21
- Yoga can help improve strength, flexibility, and balance through the use of physical positions called asanas that help to reduce stress, oxygenate tissues, and stimulate circulation.22
- Specific programs have been designed and studied for their ability to improve strength and balance with chronic conditions such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis knee pain, or fibromyalgia.23–26
- Balance-training devices may help promote balance and reduce the risk of falls. One study indicated that balance training may significantly reduce the frequency of falls in patients with osteoporosis.27 This has also been demonstrated in Parkinson’s Disease.28
- Virtual reality games may offer visual support for biofeedback and enhance balance training.29
Good balance is a key factor in preventing falls and promoting longevity. Many people underestimate their potential for falling. Falling can result in significant harm and a long-term impact on quality of life. If you have compromised mobility, pain, nerve damage, or other conditions, it is important to perform activities regularly to support building strength, mobility, and balance. It is also important to assure safe exercise conditions and a safe environment.
1. Araujo CG de S e SCLJ et al. Successful 10-second one-legged stance performance predicts survival in middle-aged and older individuals. Br J Sports Med. Published online 2022.
2. LeLaurin JH, Shorr RI. Preventing Falls in Hospitalized Patients. Clin Geriatr Med. 2019;35(2):273-283. doi:10.1016/j.cger.2019.01.007
3. Fehlberg EA, Lucero RJ, Weaver MT, et al. Impact of the CMS No-Pay Policy on Hospital-Acquired Fall Prevention Related Practice Patterns. Innov Aging. 2017;1(3). doi:10.1093/geroni/igx036
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13. Hunt D, Stuart S, Nell J, et al. Do people with Parkinson’s disease look at task relevant stimuli when walking? An exploration of eye movements. Behavioural Brain Research. 2018;348. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2018.03.003
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15. Kim H, Kim YL, Lee SM. Effects of therapeutic Tai Chi on balance, gait, and quality of life in chronic stroke patients. International Journal of Rehabilitation Research. 2015;38(2). doi:10.1097/MRR.0000000000000103
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17. Penn IW, Sung WH, Lin CH, Chuang E, Chuang TY, Lin PH. Effects of individualized Tai-Chi on balance and lower-limb strength in older adults. BMC Geriatr. 2019;19(1). doi:10.1186/s12877-019-1250-8
18. Burschka JM, Keune PM, Oy UH van, Oschmann P, Kuhn P. Mindfulness-based interventions in multiple sclerosis: Beneficial effects of Tai Chi on balance, coordination, fatigue and depression. BMC Neurol. 2014;14(1). doi:10.1186/s12883-014-0165-4
19. Hackney ME, Earhart GM. Tai Chi improves balance and mobility in people with Parkinson disease. Gait Posture. 2008;28(3). doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2008.02.005
20. Wang LC, Ye MZ, Xiong J, Wang XQ, Wu JW, Zheng GH. Optimal exercise parameters of tai chi for balance performance in older adults: A meta-analysis. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2021;69(7). doi:10.1111/jgs.17094
21. Marks R. Qigong Exercise and Arthritis. Medicines. 2017;4(4):71. doi:10.3390/medicines4040071
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24. Cave K, Lipman M, Thomas S, Bradshaw E. An exercise group for the management of chronic knee pain: a service evaluation. Physiotherapy. 2020;107. doi:10.1016/j.physio.2020.03.219
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28. Wong-Yu ISK, Mak MKY. Multisystem Balance Training Reduces Injurious Fall Risk in Parkinson Disease. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2019;98(3). doi:10.1097/PHM.0000000000001035
29. Kotov-Smolenskiy AM, Klochkov AS, Khizhnikova AE. Balance training at low physical fitness using virtual reality system. Physical and rehabilitation medicine, medical rehabilitation. 2020;2(1). doi:10.36425/rehab20644
I am a Master’s prepared RN, National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Board-Certified Functional Wellness Coach, and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner. I help people fix their chronic inflammation & pain with in-home lab testing, client assessments, personalized natural healing protocols, and online coaching to help them move from pain to peace so that they feel better, move better, and live better.