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Sunday, November 01, 2009

A long and healthy life has a lot to do with balance

As we get older, balance and coordination is not as good as it was. This is most obvious when walking and when doing balancing, such as reaching up to a high shelf while teetering on a stool. Walking may be more of a shuffle than a stride and arms not swing "left-right-left" in perfect timing with the legs as before.

As we age, there is an accumulation of multiple small deficits that gradually reduce function. This deterioration of function sadly begins from about age 30 and finally finishes when we are wheeled into the morgue with a toe tag.

The better the overall health of a person, the better their balance and coordination. Balance and coordination can be measures of how fast or how slowly we age biologically. Are you a young 70 year old, or an old one?

How to assess balance

The Stork Test

Remove the shoes and place the hands on the hips, then position the non-supporting foot against the inside knee of the supporting leg. The subject is given one minute to practice the balance. The subject raises the heel to balance on the ball of the foot. The stopwatch is started as the heel is raised from the floor. The stopwatch is stopped if any of the following occur:
  • the hand(s) come off the hips
  • the supporting foot swivels or moves (hops) in any direction
  • the non-supporting foot loses contact with the knee
  • the heel of the supporting foot touches the floor

Safety: Do this test on a carpet with no obstacles nearby like a coffee table. If balance is particularly poor, then do the test alongside a grab rail, or have a strong assistant stand behind as a spotter.

Scoring: The total time in seconds is recorded. The score is the best of three attempts. The table below lists general ratings for this test.


Score (seconds)


> 50


40 - 50


25- 39


10 - 24


< 10

Reference: Johnson BL, Nelson JK. Practical measurements for evaluation in physical education. 4th Edit. Minneapolis: Burgess, 1979.

Of course, excellent balance and coordination can be maintained well into old age. It is just a matter of practicing balance and coordination skills and keeping in very good health.

How to improve balance and coordination
Start each day with the Stork Test (Practice with both legs). Sign up with a dancing studio. Take up Tai Chi. Put down a length of 4x2" timber on an even surface and use it as a low level balance beam that you can walk up and down, pirouette, skip and kneel on.

Walk your way to better coordination
Easily my favourite advice for improving coordination is encouraging people to get outdoors and walk, walk, walk! If there has been any loss of balance or if the arms are not swinging with perfect timing, then there is a very simple and effective solution: Walking Poles

Walking poles give a debilitated person the confidence to walk tracks and trails without undue risk of stumbling and falling. While it may take a few lessons to get the timing going, using walking poles quickly restores and retains the "left-right-left" action and timing of the arms and legs. Without the poles it is just far too easy for the infirm person to fall back into lazy habits of shuffling the legs and dangling the arms.

Health Tip: The sooner a disease is detected, the easier it is to treat and the more likely you will fully recover. Deteriorating balance may be your earliest warning sign that something may be going wrong with your health.

Do your balance exercises daily and put the occasional stop watch on the Stork Test. If you ever notice an unexplained loss of balance, measure it, then go see your doctor and report your findings, along with any unsual symptoms such as pain, dizziness, loss of apetite or feeling unusually tired.

1 comment:

Wayne said...

that was far too easy