Collagen is a protein found in the connective tissue such as skin, muscle sheath, bone, tendons, and ligaments. Over time, it begins to stick together, making the connective tissue stiffer – diminishing your range of motion. The good news is that some studies show improvements in flexibility when individuals engage in exercise programs that involve stretching exercises. And physical activity can greatly improve balance and reduce the risk of falling.
To combat stiff joints, many have embraced yoga. Among a group of 16 female seniors, three 70-minute sessions of yoga over a course of four weeks resulted in decreased body fat percentage and systolic blood pressure, improved balance and shoulder range of motion, and reduced incidence of sleep disturbance. Simple daily stretches can also help with your flexibility. To avoid injury, it's crucial to warm up briefly prior to stretching, hold each stretch for at least 60 seconds, breathe deeply, and be aware of spinal posture – any extremes in curvature can make you vulnerable to injury.
In order to improve balance, it's important to select balance-training exercises that are specific to activities you do during the day. For instance, if you are unsteady while you walk, you might want to do balance exercises on one leg that mimic the act of walking. Tai chi is excellent for this because it involves slow, coordinated movements, and is particularly beneficial for balance since you lift one leg frequently while doing it. The results of a study of 256 older adults (with the average age of 77) who participated in tai chi for six months found that there were 52% fewer falls in the individuals who did tai chi compared to those who didn't.
Of course, there are many more useful exercises that help improve flexibility and balance. The key to any stretching or balance program is regularity and performing these activities in moderation.
Need some guidance on exercises to improve balance? Try our Senior Balance and Exercise Class at our Lost Gatos campus. For more information, call 408-866-4059.
This story first appeared in the February 2015 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.