The secret to healthy mobility and limber living? Balance. Here’s how to keep your body on track.

Featured in the March 2020 issue of Inspired Life. Read the full magazine here. 

When a client starts losing balance, things in their body get out of whack quickly. So certified clinical exercise physiologist Beth Dole, of Fyzical Therapy & Balance Centers in Traverse City, has a simple attack: “I start with the neck.”

Why the neck? Dole explains how things can cascade. Say your neck is a little stiff due to an injury or arthritis. “Stiff necks mean you turn your body without turning or tilting your neck, but that doesn’t stimulate our vestibular sense,” says Dole. “Within our ear, we have three canals on each side, and when we tip our heads forward/backward or left/right, that’s how we stimulate those, and the more we do it, the better our balance becomes. Without our vestibular sense, we lose balance. That can lead to a slip and fall, or broken hip or elbow. Then comes rehab, loss of muscle tone, strength, cardiovascular fitness … and suddenly, that stiff neck has caused a whole heap of trouble.”

To help her clients preserve a well-working vestibular system, she gives them two minutes of neck work each day. “As adults, we sit, we go forward, but we don’t go side to side. The more we work those planes of motion, the better.”

Another aspect to consider with balance as you age is vision. To illustrate, Dole suggests you try to stand and do a calf raise with your eyes closed. Not so simple, is it? “Our vision is our primary driver for our balance and when we don’t see as well, our balance gets off,” she explains. That’s because our vision is providing information to other sensory systems that help us feel and understand where our body is in the world. So regular eye check-ups and good corrective lenses can have an impact on how stable we feel.

Dole also goes after the hips, explaining that hip work helps to strengthen the knees, but also helps the gait—our gait can become wobbly due to weakness in our glutei, “so strengthening the hips helps.”

4 Tips to Improve Balance

Dole has lots of advice she wishes seniors would think about before they start to feel unsteady or face recovery from a fall. The short version? “You rest, you rust,” she laughs. Here are a few more tips:

  1. Don’t wait for a fall to happen to work on balance: Strong balance will prevent falls.
  2. We’ve got to keep joints lubricated, through motion. The more often we move, the better.
  3. Those little aches and pains? The longer you ignore them the harder they become to treat later.
  4. Physical therapy is a great starting point, but you’ll need a long-term maintenance program. “I encourage people to join me at the senior center for exercise,” says Dole. “There are lots of free or inexpensive exercise programs. Silver Sneakers is one and participants’ health insurance covers it.”