As we age, the systems in our bodies responsible for maintaining balance undergo changes. Recent research offers insights into the age-related changes that lead to a loss of balance.
This information is crucial for building effective ways to assess balance and for developing interventions that successfully regain and maintain balance.
A decrease in balance can lead to falls, which may result in fractures. Understanding balance and how to enhance and sustain it is essential for avoiding falls and keeping our bones strong and healthy.
In this article, you’ll learn how.
As Body Systems Change With Age, So Does Balance
Balance refers to your ability to distribute your weight in a way that you can stand and move without falling. It also refers to your ability to regain your balance after stumbling or if you’re subjected to an outside force such a sudden train stop, or a slipping rug.
Many studies have observed that balance generally declines with age.1 There are different types of tests used to measure balance. Sway tests measure the minor swaying motion of the body when standing still. Other tests measure postural changes in response to physical input. These may assess static balance (balance while still) or dynamic balance (balance while in motion).
Age commonly contributes to the decline of balance. One potential cause of this decline is age-related changes to motor systems.
One study compared older and younger participants' physical responses when their balance was challenged. Researchers observed differences in the order in which participants' muscles activated to regain balance, and the locus of the response was distinct in each group.1
Generally, older participants reacted by stiffening their joints to minimize body motion. In some cases, their muscles were activated in the wrong order to most effectively maintain balance.
Balance is your ability to distribute your weight so that you can stand or move without falling, even in response to outside forces. Age-related changes to motor systems are one cause of declining balance.
Sensory Systems And Balance
Research has also explored age-related declines in sensory systems and how these contribute to reduced balance.
Studies that measure the impact of visual information on balance found that younger participants kept their balance more effectively than older participants when presented with the visual illusion that they were moving. Furthermore, older participants with a recent history of falling were less able to maintain balance than younger participants or older participants who had not experienced a fall.1
The vestibular system in the inner ear, which governs balance, can also change with age, directly impacting the ability to maintain balance.
The somatosensory system– a neural network in the brain that governs the sensations of touch, temperature, body position, and pain– can also change over time and cause reductions in muscle response time.
Age-related declines in sensory systems' function negatively impact balance. These systems include visual processing, the vestibular system, and the sense of touch.
Cognitive Changes Can Impact Balance
Until recently, declines in balance were thought to be caused only by motor and sensory declines, but research now suggests that age-related cognitive changes also play a role.
Studies have found that the brain’s capacity to simultaneously focus on multiple tasks affects balance.
When study participants engaged in a complex cognitive task, older participants were less able to maintain their balance than younger participants. Researchers attributed this difference to an age-related decline in attention allocation.1
Studies have found that age-related declines in the ability to allocate attention reduce balance.
How To Increase Your Balance And Beyond
Fortunately, we can enhance our balance, and extensive research guides us on how to do so.
A 2021 meta-analysis of studies on exercise interventions to improve reactive balance analyzed 39 trials that included 1,388 participants engaged in 17 types of exercise interventions.
Researchers found that task-specific reactive balance exercise was an optimal intervention for improving balance. Power training proved a valuable secondary training exercise.2
Another meta-analysis, published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science found that resistance training significantly improved muscle strength and that multimodal exercise improved balance and reduced the risk of falling.3
A multimodal exercise approach integrates various types of exercises, such as resistance training and tai chi, or yoga and weight lifting. Ideally, multimodal exercise includes at least three types of exercise combining the benefits of strength/resistance training, aerobic/cardiovascular exercise, and balance/stability training.
In one study with older adults with reduced physical capacity, cognitive impairment, or dementia, muscle strengthening and balance training exercises conducted at home and led by therapists resulted in a 35% reduction in the rate of falls.3
Other studies included in this meta-analysis found that exercise increased participants' independence in their daily activities. Meditative movement interventions such as tai chi produced significant improvements in sleep quality. Multimodal interventions in older adults resulted in more significant improvements in bone mineral density at the femoral neck than exercise-only interventions.3
Studies have found that multimodal exercise interventions– which combine different types of exercise– significantly increase balance and reduce the risk of falling.
What This Means To You
Maintaining good balance decreases the risk of falls and fractures. Fortunately, you can improve and maintain your balance through a combination of exercises that includes targeted balance training.
The Save Institute has created the ultimate resource for building successful exercise routines to meet your bone health and balance goals easily and effectively. It’s called SaveTrainer.
SaveTrainer is more than just an online exercise video platform. It’s a new standard for at-home fitness, designed to target bone health and reverse signs of aging.
If putting together an expertly crafted and professionally guided multimodal exercise routine sounds like a daunting task, then we have good news: we did it for you. SaveTrainer lets you combine a wide variety of powerful physical practices, tailored to your ability level, available anyplace, anytime. Working out has never been this easy or effective, regardless of your age, fitness level, or schedule.
You have the tools to put the knowledge you’ve gained to work. The result will be stronger bones and a long, independent, and active life.