We all have our clumsy moments in life. Maybe we trip on the corner of a rug or we miss a step going down a flight of stairs. Believe me, most of us have experienced the painful tailbone bounce down the stairs. Falls are a part of life! For most of us, we are able to bounce right back up on our feet, or at least after a few seconds of waiting for the pain to subside. However, for some people groups, such as older adults, falls can pose a big risk.
Usually falls are not dangerous for the common population, but for older adults, falls can cause hospitalization, or in worse cases, even death. As baby boomers get older, the older adult population continues to increase. Further, are at higher risk of falling due to a few different variables. With an increasing older adult population who has a higher risk of falling and an increased risk of injury from falls, this is a problem. All of these factors together create a fall crisis.
As we age, we go through an age-related process called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle mass, strength, and function. Studies show that sarcopenia and other variables, such as, vision, proprioception, physical activity level, and many more are factors that cause balance to decline as we age. It makes sense that less muscle strength would affect your balance, right? Further, does muscle strength dictate balance, and furthermore, fall risk?
My co-investigator, Maya Holmen, and I aimed to answer this question by conducting a research study using older adults both from long-term care homes and who live independently. Specifically, we investigated the relationship between leg strength, agility, and balance in older adults. After gaining university and care home approval as well as training on how to conduct specific measurements, our study began.
In our study, we conducted a fall risk assessment and two functional movement assessments to measure leg strength and agility. We also had participants fill out a demographic and health questionnaire to give us valuable background information. Study participants were 55 years of age or older, had vision or partial vision, and were absent from any disease that would disqualify them from functional movement assessments. We also used an innovative balance measure, the Balance Tracking System (BTrackS). The BTrackS is a portable force plate that measures Center of Pressure during a standing protocol and classifies older adults into a performance percentile for age and gender. Participants were split into two categories. The two categories were those below the 75th percentile for balance, “low balance performance” group, and those who were above the 75th percentile for balance, “good balance” group. Our study found that the “high balance performance” group had better agility and leg strength than the “bad balance” group.
Our study found that the “high balance” group had significantly better scores on the leg strength functional movement assessment than the “low balance” group. Furthermore, our study also found that the “high balance” group had significantly better scores on the agility functional movement assessment than the “low balance” group. These results indicate that those with better balance have more leg strength and better agility. Another important finding that we had is that participants who lived independently had significantly better balance and lower fall risk than participants who lived in a care home. These findings are important because they support the importance that leg strength and agility have when it comes to balance.
Regardless of age, it is never too late to start doing some form of physical activity to combat sarcopenia or loss of muscle strength and to increase agility. Our study shows that those two factors are related and vital to balance. Thus, try to walk often, and if you are able try new activities; for example, lift some weights, go on a run, bike ride, swim etc. These activities could potentially save your life one day.