The importance of balance and brain health

Health

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – When you’re young and agile, it’s easy to climb stairs, play hopscotch, or ride a bike.

However, after age 50, reflexes and coordination slow down, muscle mass and strength decrease, and eyesight decline.

All this can lead to reduced balance and an increased risk of falling.

Our health expert, Karen Owoc, is here to shed some light on the importance of balance and what the loss of it can indicate.

Study: Inability to Balance on One Leg Reflects Brain Health

• Balance is something you rarely think about, because it comes naturally.

• This is the first study that examined shorter one-legged standing times as an indicator or overall brain health.

• Per a Japanese study, the inability to stand on one leg for 20 seconds or more is linked to diminishing brain health:

• Reduced cognitive function

• Increased risk of stroke

• Small blood vessel damage in the brain

Subjects: 841 women, 546 men; average age 67

• Subjects performed single-leg balance test on each leg, then their brains were evaluated using brain MRI.

• Researchers found that the inability to balance on one leg for longer than 20 seconds was associated with:

• Microbleeds in the brain

• Ischemic strokes

• Cerebral small vessel disease

• Lower scores on cognitive tests

Seek Medical Attention (Fall Risk = Brain Risk)

• If you are determined to have poor balance, it could indicate a need for an additional evaluation and closer attention.

Fall Risk vs Alzheimer’s Risk

• According to the CDC, millions of adults age 65 and older fall.

• 28% adults (1 in 4) age 65 and older fall each year and LESS THAN HALF tell their doctor. —> the most important reason to see a doctor and be evaluated.

• 11.3% adults (1 in 9) age 65 have Alzheimer’s.

• Falling once DOUBLES the chances of falling again.

Signs of Poor Balance

• Falling or stumbling

• Stooping (hunched posture)

• Slow gait

• “Shuffling” gait (drags the feet instead of picking up the feet to walk) — An early sign of loss of muscular coordination because the part of the brain that governs motor skills (the parietal lobe) is affected. —-> Increases fall risk.

Other reasons for shuffling:

• Weak hips and leg muscles

• Arthritis pain in joints

• Loss of flexibility in ankles/feet

• Decreased ability to maintain balance

• Fear because of a recent stumble or fall

• Slow reaction time when unbalanced, which increases fear of falling

• Medication side effects

• Worn or loosely-fitting shoes/slippers

• Slippery floors

Take the Single-Leg Balance Test

• Cross your arms at your wrists, and hold them close to the chest.

• Elevate one leg until the thigh is parallel with the floor.

• Once stable, time how long you can hold this position.

• Any re-positioning of the foot or arms is considered a loss of balance.

How to Improve Balance

To be functional, independent, and mobile, you need to have good balance. Walking and stair climbing require one-legged balance.

• Practice standing on one leg for up to 60 seconds on each leg

• Core strengthening (abs, back, hips, glutes)

The Takeaway:

You can work on your balance anytime and anywhere. Stand on one leg while standing in line at the grocery store, brushing your teeth, or washing dishes.

Single-Leg Balance Reflects Brain Health

The inability to stand on one leg for 20 seconds or more is linked to:

• Reduced cognitive function

• Increased risk of stroke

• Small blood vessel damage in the brain

Signs of Poor Balance

• Falling or stumbling

• Stooping (hunched posture)

• Slow gait

• “Shuffling” gait

Fall Risk vs Alzheimer’s Risk

In adults age 65 and older:

• 36 million fall each year.

• 1 in 4 fall each year and less than half tell their doctor.

• 1 in 9 have Alzheimer’s.

• Falling once doubles the chances of falling again.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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