Over the weekend, two girlfriends and I went on a field trip that allowed us to have a lot of time to visit in the car. One of the friends described an exercise program she’s started. She said she was really surprised that one area where she struggled has been when she’s doing exercises intended to test her balance.
While we’re encouraged to do aerobic exercise and strength exercises, menopausal women aren’t often encouraged to focus on improving their balance. However, we should be continuing to hone this important ability that we often take for granted. That’s because the National Institutes of Health’s Senior Health webpage reported that 33.4 million American adults in 2008 experienced a balance problem or dizziness in the previous year. And that can lead into falls, which can be especially problematic as we age since our bones weaken. In fact, more than 33 percent of adults who are at least 65 years of age fall annually. Furthermore, falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among older adults.
“Good balance requires reliable sensory input from the individual’s vision, vestibular system (the balance system of the inner ear), and proprioceptors (sensors of position and movement in the feet and legs),” states the Vestibular Disorders Association (VDA). “The elderly are prone to a variety of diseases that affect these systems, including cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration, which all affect vision; diabetic peripheral neuropathy, which affects position sense in the feet and legs; and degeneration of the vestibular system.” Balance also requires good muscle strength and mobility of the joints. These last two can be compromised by a sedentary lifestyle as well as diseases such as arthritis.
Issues with the inner ear’s labyrinth, which is responsible for helping you keep their balance, often are behind feelings of dizziness or unsteadiness. According to the National Institutes of Health’s Senior Health website, here are several types of balance disorders, including:
- Labyrinthitis, which is an inflammation of the inner ear. This condition is caused by the spread of bacterial or viral infections that originated in either the head or respiratory tracts. These infections spread into the inner ear. Symptoms include dizziness, hearing loss, a sensation of ringing in the ears, nausea, vomiting, spontaneous eye movements in the director of the unaffected ear, and discharged from the infected ear.
- Meniere’s disease, which is a balance disorder. People who have this disease can experience vertigo, periodic hearing loss, ringing or roaring in the ears, and a feeling that their ear is full.
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, which is one of the most common balance disorders. In this condition, a person experiences a brief, intense feeling of vertigo when changing the position of their head, when getting out of bed, or when looking for an object that’s on a high or low shelf. This condition involves mall calcium particles in the inner ear that are displaced and hit the inner ear’s balance sensors. This contact causes dizziness. Researchers believe that the displacement may be caused by an inner ear infection, head injury or aging.
So how can you protect your balance? The National Institute on Aging (NIA) recommends doing balance exercises whenever you can. These exercises also can overlap with low-body strength exercises in order to improve your stability. However, you shouldn’t do strength exercises two days in a row (although you can do balance exercises anytime.