A recent study by a “Brazilian team found that 20 percent of the 1,700 older adults tested couldn’t balance on one leg for 10 seconds or more. And that inability to balance was associated with a twofold risk of death from any cause within 10 years.” [New York Times]
Falls are the number-one cause of injuries and death from injuries among older Americans. Every 19 minutes in this country, an older person dies from a fall. (New York Times) Most falls result from poor balance. One in four Americans over 65 fall one or more times each year.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) ”falls are the most common cause of serious injuries in older adults and increase the risk of hospitalization. In the US, falls were responsible for an estimated 2.8 million emergency department visits and cost the health care system more than $49.5 billion in 2015. The most prominent predisposing risk factor for falls among US adults is deficits in balance. An estimated 40% of the US population experience dizziness or balance difficulty through their lifetime.”
People “with balance disorder were at a higher risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.”
People with balance problems generally are less active with less healthy lifestyles, e.g., overweight, which explains the higher risk of death from diseases. You’re active and hopefully lead a healthy lifestyle. Even if your balance is poorer your risk of premature mortality is lower than average; however, the risk is still significant.
Strength and balance tend to decrease with age. Balance problems can be caused by a variety of factors. As you age, nerve signals from your feet and legs to your brain slow down, which makes it more difficult to maintain balance. Degenerative inner ear problems make balance harder. Some medications affect balance. If your vision is affected by cataracts, it’s more difficult to balance. While it’s impossible to prevent all types of age-related decline, you can counteract the impact on your balance through specialized training and building strength.
I’ve written two relevant columns:
Even if your balance is good on a bike, you may encounter people whose balance isn’t good. My colleague Diane Carter has written a column on Multi-Use Path Safety: 9 Ways You Can Help Older People “Keep on Truckin”
My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process has individual chapters strength exercises and balance training, two of the recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). My eBook includes chapters on the other recommendations of the ACSM for different types of exercise: cardiovascular both endurance and intensity; weight-bearing and flexibility. I include interviews with Gabe Mirkin (recommendations from an M.D.) Jim Langley (importance of goals), Andy Pruitt (importance of working on your skeleton, posture, balance, muscle mass), Muffy Ritz (recommended activities for older people, especially women), Malcolm Fraser (recommendations from an M.D.), Fred Matheny (importance of strength training), Elizabeth Wicks (motivation) and five other male and female riders ages 55 to 83. Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process incorporates the latest research and most of it is new material not published in my previous eArticles on cycling past 50, 60 and beyond. It’s your comprehensive guide to continuing to ride well into your 80s and even your 90s. The 106-page eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is available for $14.99.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.
Mr. Versatile says
I have a neurological disease called CMT (Charcot Marie Tooth) I was diagnosed about 10 years ago. CMT starts with peripheral neurology in your toes & gradually works it’s way to your knees. Your legs start to look like upside wine bottles because the muscles in your calves atrophy due to decreased nerve signals. Upper legs, quads, hamstrings are rarely affected. CMT can also affect your arms and hands from the elbow down. My hands are starting to weaken & it’s difficult for me to open jars. I can feel my feet only a little, which makes balance very tricky. My feet can’t feel hot or cold, cuts & other injuries. There is no treatment and no cure for CMT, & fortunately no pain.
I’ll be 80 in Dec. & I’ve been cycling (post high school) riding, racing, and touring, for 59 years. I’ve ridden across the country .It’s the only physical activity I actually look forward to doing. It’s been a major part of my life. I’ve ridden just a little over 170,000. Unfortunately, my disease has caught up with me. I can no longer ride safely on 2 wheels, especially when starting from a stop or when stopping. A couple of weeks ago a friend & I went on a 50 mile ride. During the ride I fell 5 times, always when stopping or starting. Two weeks ago I fell while putting my foot down at a stop. I broke 4 ribs & cracked my helmet.
This week I bought a trike, and have all my bikes for sale. Maybe it sounds silly, but I’m grieving the loss of of my beautiful bikes as well as riding with any kind of speed or panache. Truthfully, I bought the raciest trike (Catrike 700) makes & it’s still is a pig. I just can’t make it go fast. I can reach 20 mph if I try, but my “cruising speed” has been cut down to 14-15 mph. I didn’t buy the E trike because it nearly doubles the price.
I’ve made some adjustments for Charcot Marie Tooth. Falls are a regular thing for me. I laugh when my doctor askes me if I’ve had any falls in the last year. LOL! Did you mean the last week? I fall a lot. I have 3 grab bars in the bath tub, no slippery surfaces anywhere in the house. I sit down to get dressed. I walk with a cane for balance, I go up & down the stairs on all fours, or use an elevator when they’re available, don’t use ladders or even step stools etc. So, I’m officially handicapped’ and as much as I dislike the trike, at least I’ll be riding.
Keep fighting! Very inspiring !
Graham Read says
I’ve been riding since the early 60’s in the day’s of Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor competing against each other during the Tour de France, 1961-64. My balance problem started several years ago when I started falling it progressed until I’d fall and not be able to get up. At the time I had no trouble with balance on the bike the problem was getting on it. Fortunately my son (also a cyclist) saw my difficulty and bought me a dropper seat post which helps a lot. I’m now going to Physical Therapy for balance and practicing standing on one leg for 10 second’s.
I broke my right hip last October while riding and turned 70 last week so can definitely relate to issues with getting on and off and stopping with my bikes. I have had drop posts installed on my BMC road bike and Trek gravel bike just in case I need them. I also avoid routes with major intersections and plan ahead of time for my stops. When possible I start and stop next to anything I can use to catch myself if I lose my balance. Finally I purchased a pair of G-Form hip pads to slip in my bib shorts but fortunately haven’t had to test them so far.
At 65 I was diagnosed with inner ear disorder endolymphatic hydrops (Meniere’s) and have experienced some dizzy spells and vertigo over the past two years but thankfully those have subsided and I’ve been able to continue cycling without issues and hopefully will into the future as it’s my favourite way to exercise.
Keep at it if you like and ride as long as possible, this is a great way to get around at any any age and especially with CMT.
I have CMT, I am 57, I ride Gran Fondos, cycling and weightlifting help compensate for muscle wasting of the disease. Always a great conversation when someone asks about my skinny calves…LOL.
I will hope to ride into my 80’s, you are truly lucky to ride in your 80’s, most people cannot and have difficulties getting about..