The stabilizer muscles keep us upright and allow us to easily change directions. Two essential stabilizers for fall prevention are the gluteus medius, located on the sides of the hips, and the gluteus maximus, which are the largest buttocks muscles. These work both together and independently to allow us to stand upright and stabilize the back and pelvis as we move during activities.
Core strength is vital for fall prevention, as the body’s core is the epicenter from which every movement revolves. As we walk, our bodies have to adapt to ever-changing ground levels. Adequate core stability and strength help us better react to these sudden changes and prevent potential falls. The core consists of several muscle groups: the rectus abdominis (the six-pack); the obliques, located on the sides and front of the abdomen; and the transverse abdominis muscles, which lie under the obliques and attach to the spine. These muscles wrap around the body and protect the spine and lower back. They also create a wall to protect the organs. Stabilizer and core muscles weaken over time as we naturally lose muscle mass, a condition called sarcopenia. Please read the blog I wrote about sarcopenia. Our generally modern, sedentary lifestyle weakens theses areas as well. We have to consciously attend to exercising these areas,
Our sense of balance naturally wanes over time, as do reflex times and coordination. This makes it easier to topple over and harder to catch ourselves if we do have a misstep. Another cause of poor balance is deterioration of the inner ears' vestibular system. It feeds information to the brain about motion and spatial orientation. This affects how we move through the world, and our awareness of it, called proprioception.
You can check your fall risk with some simple tests. Place one foot in front of the other so the toes and heel touch (like how you would measure distance on the floor) and try to stand without losing your balance for up to a minute. Another version is to walk heel-to-toe, like on a tightrope, for 20 steps. If you have trouble maintaining balance and stability with either of these, you should discuss it with your doctor.
Yoga, tai chi, mat Pilates, and strength training with our own body weight or weights are ways that we can improve our, balance, core, and stability. Seek out different types of movement for a natural and easy way to cross train. Also, cross training keeps us from being bored. Find a partner to exercise these areas with you. When someone is counting on us to suit up and show up, our accountability is stronger.
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