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“Everything in life…has to have balance” (Donna Karan)

Today is the funeral of football legend, Sir Bobby Charlton.

It was with sadness that I heard about the cause of his death, being of an age to remember the 1966 World Cup, in glorious black and white on the Telly.

Although according to the NHS webpage, “falls aren’t an inevitable part of living with dementia”, problems with mobility are. And falls are associated with poor mobility and balance.

So why I am I writing about this for a group of people whose mobility is probably not an issue?

Well recently, Alan shared an article with me by the Manchester Metropolitan University and the British Master Athletics Federation, “Strong and Balanced Training. A guide to healthy and active ageing for master athletes”, and although most of it was familiar, and I was feeling quite smug that I was doing all that was recommended by NHS and British Medical Association anyway, I was quite surprised by the balance information:

Now, I do a lot of single leg gym work for my sprinting: Bulgarian split squats with weights, single leg bounds, etc. I can even do "half" pistol squats - not sure what they are? They’re a real challenge :

So I thought I will be good at the balance test, as I can stand on one foot for minutes, even brushing my teeth!

Anyway, and it’s a great Christmas “Parlour Game” activity for the whole family, I tried standing on one foot with my eyes closed with a stopwatch (yes, I was that confident): six seconds, six measly seconds.

Well, that must have been a duff one, let’s try again - using all my concentration led to a massive improvement : 8 seconds :( . What’s going on here? I asked my 30 years+ daughter to have a go. She doesn’t do sport. Over 20 seconds, no problem.

So how can this be?

With your eyes closed one relies on one’s inner ear and central nervous system to register whether you are vertical or horizontal. As one ages, one’s hearing deteriorates. I hear you all say, “Pardon”!

So is it that important? After all I don’t usually walk about with my eyes closed. BUT, I often do move without focusing on where exactly I am putting my feet, etc. After playing the 'how long can you stand on one foot with your eyes closed test', a friend told me the story of how her mum got up off the couch to pick up a magazine off the floor tumbled over and only just missed the corner of the TV table. Ouch - that could have been really serious.

But is balance that important to maintain - isn’t that just a consequence of getting older? Well, according to data released by NHS Digital nearly 100,000 older people (aged 65+) suffered hip fractures in 2017/18. Falls are the most common cause of injury related deaths in people over the age of 75 with over 5,000 older people dying as a result of a fall in 2017, a 70% increase on the numbers in 2010. Hmm, it's serious.

NB - I have advice for maintaining bone strength (density) too that will reduce risk of fracture should you fall over - see my "It doesn’t have to be all downhill as you age" blog : link

So what can we do? Well, I’m not a Dr, but I am pretty sure this can be trained. We can all improve our physical capability to do a variety of things and as the MMU/BMAF article states, “one is never too old to begin”. And Age UK is urging people to consider some simple actions to help prevent falls including:

  • Exercise to improve balance. As we get older, our muscle strength and balance reduces, which can lead to a fall. Exercises designed to improve muscle strength and balance can reduce your risk of a fall by maintaining strong muscles and bones, which in turn will help your balance.

  • Have regular eye sight and hearing checks… Problems with your ears can severely affect your balance, and the risk of hearing loss increases with age. I know - my hearing has deteriorated.

Here’s a plan of activities to improve balance, generally:

  • obviously brushing your teeth while standing on one foot in the morning has been stated as beneficial for helping improve balance,

  • MMU/BMAF suggest, “include hops, strengthening and balancing exercises in your warm-up and cool- down.

To improve your balance with your eyes closed can be trained but needs to be done carefully, to avoid falling over in the kitchen, eh Alan?

The goal is to “tune in” your internal balance system, so hold onto something that will support you, stand on one foot (swap feet after a while - no good having only one good leg), close your eyes. Feel how much load you are transferring onto the support and try to reduce it. In time ,your balance will improve to, maybe, a point where you can do it unsupported (I haven’t got that far yet).

So if you want to keep running, maintaining your mobility and even avoid a premature death, work on your balance, else, as Melt Yourself Down sing, “You lose your balance, lose your balance, lose your balance; Lose your balance, lose your sense of balance, yeah” (from 'Balance' off 'Pray for Me, I don’t fit in’ album - how appropriate?!).

Further reading:

MMU/BMAF article : ““Strong and Balanced Training. A guide to healthy and active ageing for master athletes” “ link :

Age UK, “Falls in later life: a huge concern for older people “, Link :

Dr Kelly Starrett, ‘“Becoming a Supple Leopard”, The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury and Optimizing Athletic Performance’ book.

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