Humans we are losing our ability to balance over the years. Without going any further, approximately 646,000 people die from a fall, and 37.3 million falls cause serious damage that needs health care, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Not only is the current figure of concern, but also the fact that has doubled in the last 20 years, and the age at which more falls normally began to occur, between 60 and 65, has come dangerously ahead, according to the BBC.
To understand why this progressive loss of balance is due, it is first necessary that we know that it is the product of a series of cognitive and physical processes that are interrelated. “Balance requires a series of sensory information,” explains Dawn Skelton, professor in the Department of Physiotherapy and Paramedicine at Glasgow Caledonian University (UK).
Son vision, hearing, muscles and brain the main architects when it comes to maintaining balance. “Your eyes work with your ears and the vestibular system of the inner ear (several channels that contain a series of fluids that move when moving the head to communicate to the brain where it is and how fast it is moving),” he continues.
The information that we obtain with both senses, makes the muscles of the legs and trunk are positioned in order to preserve posture. This system he trains since childhood, Y its evolution depends on how much we practice it. “If you look at a young child who is learning to stand up, you will see that he stumbles and falls all the time. By the time he is 2 or 3 years old he stops falling so often,” says the expert.
“This is because the nervous system is beginning to integrate information muscles, eyes and ears and to better understand how to balance. And to play and do a lot of physical activity, puts all this into practice on a regular basis, “he concludes.
For what is this
But what has changed in our lives so that we lose balance more often much earlier than in the past? Our lifestyle has become sedentary, what has reduced balance practice. “Two generations ago, most children were walking to school and not sitting in a car. But also in schools now there is much less physical activity,” says Skelton.
Similarly, the activities have changed to which a child spends free time. “If you spend a lot of time looking at a screen, your vision will be affected. Looking for a long time at something that is close to you will make you myopic because you are not using your eyes to look further”, and “if you can’t quickly adjust your vision from something that is close to something that is far, your balance will suffer“.
So, if during childhood we do not perform enough physical activity to allow us to practice the mechanisms responsible for maintaining balance, and later in adulthood we develop sedentary jobs, in old age we will see our balance capacity greatly affected and we will be more vulnerable to falls.
The sedentary lifestyle it also affects our bone density, something for which the teacher is also concerned. “Since we have not built enough bone density, they will also occur earlier [las fracturas de huesos]So, “when you stop using your muscles, they disappear, and the same goes for bone density. In a week you can lose up to 1% and recover it can take a year“, he warns.
Mental health, a fundamental actor
On the other hand, mental and emotional health play an equally important role in the ability to balance. According to a study by the University of Tel-Aviv (Israel) published in early 2020, “the physical profile of patients with schizophrenia is characterized by slow gait and reduced stride, those with anxiety disorders are characterized by balance disorders and those who suffer from depression, by a slow gait and a stooped posture. “
In addition, because people with pressure tend to position their head forward, the weight of the body goes in that direction, which makes losing balance easier. In this sense, “as depressed people tend to give shorter steps, without raising your feet much, it is easier for them to trip“, afirma Skelton.
According to the anxiety, our muscles are constantly in a state of activation, something that can also upset the balance since “the nervous system is very alert, focused on what may or may not happen, but not on balance“.
And all this regardless of medication that these people usually consume, another variable that could alter the balance.
How to train balance
However, it is a capacity that can be trained and developed, for example, with any type of physical exercise, especially those that are done while moving and those that make us pay attention to many things and move our heads more regularly.
Playing soccer, racket sports, riding a bike, or dancing are some of the activities that we can do if we want to strengthen our balance. Walking is also a practice that can help us, especially if we do them on uneven terrain that make our nervous system work.
The old people who cannot perform this type of exercise, can perform other simpler activities such as balancing on one leg, walking up and down stairs with the balls of the feet, or walking backwards, the latter with help and great caution.