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Balance Failing

September 6, 2015

About a year ago, I joined the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, as a participant.  At the beginning, I went to a local hospital for a series of physical and mental tests.  One that surprised me was simply to time how long I could stand on one foot.  I had never done that before.  They let me practice a bit and told me how I could do it.  Even then, I had to stop myself from falling after only a few seconds.  I certainly didn’t expect to do so badly on that test.

I do ballroom dancing.  I thought I was pretty good on my feet.  I was puzzled when another dancer told me that he wanted to learn ballroom dancing before his balance went.  He told me that balance was the first thing you lose as you get older.  I suppose that’s true.  As I became more aware of my own balance while dancing, I did notice that there were times that I felt I was falling over.  My instructor told me that whenever I was unstable on the dance floor, it was because I was landing wrong, or not maintaining my posture.  I suppose that’s true too.

My mother, who is 95, just started using a walker.  She said she felt more secure that way.  I suppose that’s right for her, but I don’t like that idea in general.  I recall that she also told me that seniors learn how to fall, so as to avoid injury or broken bones.  Somebody being interviewed on the radio said that learning how to fall is useless because falls happen so quickly that you don’t have time to do what you have learned.  He said it was better not to fall, and being agile on your feet was the way to avoid falls.  Ballroom dancers are certainly agile on their feet.  That sounded like a good idea to me.  How could I improve my balance?

Then I read an article on the web that promoted a series of exercises that were done while standing on one foot.  You repeat it on the other foot, of course.  That type of exercise sounded good to me immediately.  They were supposed to improve balance and strengthen bones at the same time.  I started by just standing on one foot.  At first, I had a falling sensation almost immediately, and had to save myself by putting down the other foot.  Soon though, I found I could stand on one foot for a much longer time.  This was going to be easy.  My dance instructor told me that I could have held on to something with my hand while I was standing on one foot.  I didn’t need to do that.  I was already doing so well without support.  I’d have no trouble with the next CLSA test.

The only problem was that I was no longer improving.  Now it became more difficult.  I was going to have to do that exercise more frequently, until I was satisfied with the result.  I did try moving my free leg around while I stood on one foot.  I was surprised that I could do that and still maintain my balance.  Still, I needed to develop the muscles that were working to keep me upright on one foot.  Repetition had to be the key.  Improvement would be slower now, but it was certainly still possible.  I even tried moving myself up and down while standing on one foot.  That’s something dancers need to do anyway.  It’s also a dangerous addition, one that I needed to be careful with.  The main thing for me was to become comfortable on one foot for some length of time.  I’m sure I can do that.


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