Finding Your Balance With Strength Training
When Did the World Tip Over?
At first, it may have been a subtle shuffle here or there. Maybe you tried to get out of a chair and fell back ward (good thing it was a comfy chair) or maybe you were just side-stepping in the kitchen to access the fridge door or the dishwasher and suddenly found yourself reaching for a counter top to stop a fall.
However it started, you’ve suddenly realized that it’s getting worse. You’re trying to convince the family that you’re okay and not drinking at 10:30 AM, but you’re secretly wondering what happened to your equilibrium. Your mind seems to be fine (you hope) but you’re also hoping it isn’t a brain tumor that’s causing this unsteadiness.
A Subtle Shift
It’s probably no big surprise that a person’s balance actually peaks and then abates just like everything else in the body. You’re on top of the world at 20 but as you get older – right around your mid- 40’s – your stability starts to lose its precision. It may be something that you can hide in the beginning but as time goes on, that instability will become more prominent and can lead to life-altering events.
On the bright side, there’s every chance that this unsteadiness is due at least in part to muscle atrophy. Yes, you still use your muscles, but not at the same intensity that you did when you were younger. Why is this such a positive thing? Because even if you’re an older adult, you can fix your balance issues with strength training.
8 Big Benefits of Strength Training For Older Adults
There are so many benefits to beginning a training program that it’s surprising, to say the least, why it isn’t promoted as heavily as cardio classes. Let’s first take a brief look at what be accomplished by implementing a strength training program for older adults:
- Improve bone mineral density – Can you say, “May reverse and prevent osteoporosis?” Building muscles increases the need for more connective tissues to the bones. The bones respond in kind by increasing their own capacity to hold these muscles and the brain sends more help to the bones with an increased supply of nutrients.
- Lowered risk of injury – The joints will strengthen, enabling you to lift more without the risk of, “pulling something.”
- Improve ability to participate in everyday activities – If you can move with more ease and less effort, you’ll fatigue less often, giving you the opportunity to fully enjoy your day.
- Improve your self-esteem – Life gets easier and much less stressful when you know you can lift that laundry basket and you know you can lift that gallon of water without asking for help or having the fear that you’ll be embarrassed by dropping it all over the floor.
- Decrease bad cholesterol levels – Muscles need fuel. This means you’ll be burning more calories. If you continue to eat the same amounts, your muscles will feast on your fat. Lower overall fat levels will reduce the chance of high cholesterol ruining your health.
- Improve aerobic capacity – Muscles not only need fuel, they need oxygen to burn that fuel. When the need for fuel increases, the body builds a greater capacity for transporting more oxygen. This is known as raising your VO2 Max, which is the peak measurement for all aerobic activities
- Improve your balance – Here we are! Yes, it will take some time, but as you reap all of those other benefits, you can now see how your balance will improve when your strength improves.
- Enhance speed and power – It may not be the first thing you think of when you’re just starting out with a fitness program, but there are plenty of people in this world that race and compete well into their golden years. Check out cyclocross racer, Julie Lockhart, for quick inspiration.
There are fewer reasons why you shouldn’t exercise than why you should. Your doctor can advise you what you can and can’t do and if you ask her/him, you may be surprised at the extent of what you can do. Surprise! It’s get your butt in gear time!
Lower Your Risk of Falling
No doubt about it, improving your strength will improve posture, coordination and stability. If you’re on the lower end of the balance spectrum and take up strength training, you could reduce your risk of a fall by as much as forty percent. There are beginner exercises to try that can help you determine your current level of stability.
Bonus! There was a 10-year study done by King’s College London that showed a correlation between leg power and cognitive function. They unclear as to exactly what this means, ie., does leg strength improve brain function or does it deteriorate due to a declination in cognitive skills, or even if this applies to women in a high risk group (the study was conducted with female participants) but I, for one, will be sure to keep up with my squats and lunges, just in case.
Keep On Keeping On
Like all good things, seeing the benefits of strength training on your balance will take some time. We all know there are no miracle cures to be found, but the emotional satisfaction of knowing that you can still do things to get stronger at any age will do wonders for your inner peace as well as your outer stability.