Preview of Your Coming Attractions

When I retired after 40 years of writing columns for the San Jose Mercury News, I figured I'd said about all I could say. Wrong. I've realized that at age 76, I'm about 10 years older than the oldest baby boomers, who are now turning 66. My very average body has had a lot of experiences in those 10 years. I've learned a lot that could be helpful to people just starting on that same path -- what to do, what to avoid, what to keep an eye on.. Consider me your canary-in-the-coalmine for the boomer generation. Tune in regularly for the heads-up advice.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Balancing Act

     A well-balanced life is important. You know, both work and play, activity and rest, dessert and more dessert – that sort of thing.
     But having a body that can balance itself is important, too. The older we get, the harder it is to balance. Older people tend to fall. A lot. Some break hips (although it’s sort of a tossup whether you fall and break a hip or the hip breaks and you fall). None of that is good.
     So while you still have a sense of balance, it’s smart to exercise it. You’ll need it later. Trust me.
     I’ve never had much of a sense of balance. I’m just extremely fortunate that I’ve never been pulled over at a DUI checkpoint and asked to balance. Walk a straight line? Not that easy. Stand on one foot? Never happen. And that’s when I’m completely sober.
     Balance stems from a few things: a healthy inner ear, legs strong enough to keep the body balanced, and good feet to anchor the process. (I blame my feet for my problems – misshapen toes don’t always work all that well.). I’ve already written about the value of keeping your legs exercised. When those muscles go, you’re in trouble in so many ways. The inner ear? Everyone’s is a little different, but all benefit from overall good health. Eat, sleep and exercise well and most ears will see you though.
     There also are some easy exercises to do to keep your sense of balance working.
     1.  Stand next to a wall that you can use to steady yourself if necessary. Place one foot in front of the other, heel to toe. Hold that position for a count of 10. Then reverse feet and do it all over again. (It helps if you focus your gaze on a fixed point in front of you.)
When you get so good at this that the 10-count seems easy, then try it with your eyes closed. (You won’t have that fixed point to look at, but if you can keep one in your mind’s eye, it helps.)
     2.  Stand on one foot, lift the other off the ground, and hold that for a count of 10. Reverse feet and count again. Then follow the same eyes-closed routine when you get good. (It helps to have your feet on solid, level ground or flooring, not on carpet. Especially not on padded carpet, unless you relish a challenge.)
     3.  The Wii video game has a nifty variation on the stand-on-foot routine that involves rhythmically lifting the other leg and opposite arm, then reversing. My wife Geri is really good at this. I can only gaze in awe.
     Do those exercises regularly, and I think they’ll serve you well as you age. Critics still may call you unbalanced. But you’ll know better.

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