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Trouble With Your Balance? Why Do We Fall More Often The Older We Get??

By: RPM Physical Therapy | Published 06/09/2022

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If you are someone that has been having increased difficulty staying strong and keeping good balance, then this is written for you. There are various reasons that we lose our ability to balance with age.

The major cause of decreased balance with age is very simple. Our muscle loss accelerates as we get older and there are a few different types of muscle fibers in the body.

We tend to lose some more than others, mostly due to the activities we are involved with and the amount that we do. As Referenced in “If you don’t use it You lose it.

Most muscle loss that we experience is in volume but the number of cells and their girth are all involved. The different types of muscle fibers that should be brought to attention correlate heavily with our strength, speed and endurance. The way we lose muscle and the amount is subject to change in individuals as is the distribution of different types of muscle fibers.

This subject has been a fascination for me over the last decade and it is one of the most overlooked issues when we talk about muscle loss. There are a few different types of muscle fibers but to stay away from getting too sciency, we will focus on the main 2:

  • Type I: Slow Twitch – Oxidative Fibers
  • Type II: Fast Twitch – Explosive Movement Fibers

We can assume that most us don’t vary much from a 60/40 to a 50/50 range in the distribution of fiber types. Different muscles have ratios dependent on their need but genetics play a huge role in this too.

We all differ slightly in ratios of these muscle fibers and that is why someone can be “naturally” better at one sport than the other, like long distance running vs sprinting. Have you seen a sprinter run and thought, “that guy was born to do that”? Or vice versa, you look at a long-distance runner and know that they were predisposed to an endurance sport.

The highest-level athletes in those two sports do not cross over, they would never cross over and they would hate to cross over. It’s just not what comes easiest to them and this typically is identified early and their strength in that sport is trained over a multitude of years. Large lineman in football rarely transition to long-distance running(competitively) after they finish years of repetition performing 5 second bursts of all out force.(More on this below) Similarly, a competitive iron-man athlete would rarely attempt to become a strongman or masters power lifter, it just doesn’t fit their body, it doesn’t come natural and we don’t like to go against our nature.

There is a correlation to which direction of muscle fibers we lose as we get older. Type I fibers are considered our postural muscles. They hold us up, all day, every day for as long as we need and they are activated more heavily with slower, rhythmic movements like standing, walking and long distance running. We use these fibers the most, because standing and walking are the two activities we do daily no matter what. If you do not exercise, you still must stand when you need to and walk, if you don’t do those activities then you are subject to more severe muscle loss in general.

Type II muscle fibers are activated when we move quickly and if we assume that you have a 50/50 split then there is a chance that those muscle fibers are not maintaining their development as you advance into adult years. We just don’t perform explosive movements like jump rope, sprinting or swift changes in direction daily. That would mean that you could be subject to a 50% decrease in muscle fibers just because we don’t use them.

If You Are Losing Your balance What Is the First Thing You Do???
Try to Catch Yourself, Right?
What Muscle Fibers Are Needed to Move Quickly?

These type II fast twitch muscle fibers are extremely important for our ability to catch ourselves when falling and even more important to catch our balance before we begin to fall! They should not be overlooked but since they are not used very much to begin with, they should be introduced into a training program with caution.

Doing too much too fast could cause extreme fatigue. They should be exercised in a controlled environment and should be performed without the existence of pain because that would cause a dysfunctional adaptation. Fast twitch muscles should be exercised at the beginning of routine after your warm-up to avoid risk for injury when you are already fatigued.

Always consult a qualified health profession before significant changes or additions such as this to an exercise program.

If you found this post helpful then please share it with a friend, it is my sincerest hope that we can avoid some of the falls that shorten the lives of our friends, relatives and parents. Start early and avoid playing catchup!

Get Active and Stay Mobile,
Jonathan

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