How’s Your Balance?

How’s Your Balance?

I consider myself a fairly active person. While I don’t have a regular exercise routine, I try to spend one day a week in the Great Smoky National Park hiking or fly fishing for trout.  So far this year I have walked almost 150 miles doing that.

There is one thing that caught me off-guard.

I resumed fly fishing last year after being away from it for many years. I had heard the streams in the Smokies were difficult to wade.

However, I Didn’t Realize the Challenge I Would Have

The stones in the streams are very slippery. There also are quite a few big boulders that I can’t see when wading upstream.  It only took about 3 or 4 steps in the Little River on my very first fishing trip last year until I started slipping and sliding.  The rest of the day I had to do all I could to keep from falling.

Can You Picture How Embarrassing It is for a Grown Man to Fall into a Stream?

Do you know how embarrassing it is when a younger person sees this happen?

I was lucky. I didn’t fall on that first trip.  However, almost every time I fished after that during the next month, I fell at least one time.  Any time I fell, I tried to do it gracefully. I don’t know if anyone ever saw me fall. If they did, they probably had a good laugh.

I knew before I started fishing, one way to avoid slipping and falling was to get wading boots with felt soles.  These are great at gripping the bottom.

I have a tendency to be stubborn. Prior to buying my boots, I did quite a bit of research. I read about other boots that had sticky rubber soles. While not as good as felt soles, they were supposed to work well on slippery streams.

The Sticky Rubber Soles Were Not the Answer

I opted for wading boots with sticky rubber.  What I found out fairly quickly was the people who wrote the reviews on these boots probably didn’t fish the streams in the Smokies.  I still was slipping in the streams.

After several weeks of fishing, I stayed close to the shore. Whenever possible I held onto the branches of trees or Rhododendrons to maintain my balance as I walked up the streams.

There was one problem. I could not fish spots further out in the streams that held fish.

This year, I decided I was going to get better at navigating the streams with those sticky rubber boots. I have to tell you I have done much better. However, it takes me forever to maneuver around a stream.

If You Were to Watch Me . . .

. . . you may not know I am moving upstream because I am moving so slow. It may take me 15 or 20 minutes to move 20 feet. It takes me several hours to cover as much ground as more experienced fly fishermen cover in one hour.

Recently, I saw an article on Balance on the AARP website and a light went off on my brain.

I realized as I have aged . . .

I No Longer Have the Same Amount of Balance I Had When I was Younger

When I started thinking about writing this, I thought of how much similar I am to a young infant just learning how to walk.

An infant has no sense of balance.  When they first try to stand up, they fall over and over again. Then they take their first step and fall. All the while, their balance is improving. At last they are walking without falling at all. During the entire time they have no fear of falling.

There is one difference with me.

When I Lose My Balance, I am Afraid I Will Fall and Break an Arm or Leg

Do you ever have problems maintaining your balance? At those times, do you worry about falling and breaking a limb?

The authors of a report published by the American Physical Therapy Association in April of 2016 had these findings:

  • About 1/3 of people over 65 fall at least once a year.
  • Half of those fall multiple times.
  • Injuries occur in 20 to 60% of the falls. These range from minor to major.

You may not fly fish in the Smokies.  However, there may be times all too frequently when you find yourself unsteady and losing your balance.  At those times, you may panic and fear breaking a bone.

You may wonder if there is something you can do to . . .

. . . Improve Your Balance and Keep from Falling

Here’s one – exercise to improve your balance. Here are two articles I found which describe different exercises for this.

The first was published by AARP.  To read it click here.

The second one is on the Philips Lifeline’s website.  Click here to read it.

I have finally accepted the fact my sense of balance is not what it used to be and have started doing these exercises.

One Funny Thing

Before I began to do these exercises, I said to myself these are too easy.  I quickly realized I was wrong. Let me explain.

The first one on the Philips Lifeline list is the Single Limb Stance. Here you stand behind a chair and hold onto it. You then lift your right leg up and balance yourself on your left foot.  You hold that position as long as possible. Then switch legs.

That is easy enough. I knew I could stand like that on either leg all day.

Then I read the last sentence.

“The goal should be to stand on one foot without holding onto the chair and hold that pose for up to a minute.”

Letting go of that chair was harder than I thought. It was very difficult to maintain my balance.  As a child, I recalled how easy it was to do this. What has happened to me over the years?

The second exercise on the Philips Lifeline list is Walking Heel to Toe. Here you just leisurely walk putting your right foot in front of your left foot with the heel of your right foot touching the top of the toes of your left foot.  You take 20 steps doing this.

As I read this, it reminded me of walking a tight rope, the rail on a railroad track, a plank or a balance beam. While I never walked a tight rope, I did walk on the others when I was a child. It was a piece of cake.

Again, I Was Wrong

The problem for me was it was very difficult to maintain my balance. The first several steps I took, I found I had to use a wall to keep from falling.  I got a little better by the fifteenth or sixteenth step.  Even then, I still had problems.

As I do these exercises regularly, I know I will get better and my balance will improve.

Since I started doing them, I have found that I am able to walk in the streams in the Smokies much better.  The rocks don’t seem to be as slippery.  I am also not slipping as much as I had been. But – at the end of this year, I am throwing my sticky rubber boots away and getting ones with felt soles.

What About You?

 Do you find that you are not as nimble as you used to be? Are there times when you have trouble maintaining your balance? Do you find yourself falling more frequently than you did when you were younger?

Don’t be embarrassed by that. Don’t beat yourself up. Just start doing exercises to improve your balance. You can do those described in the 2 articles I mentioned or you can do other ones.

The most important thing is to improve your balance. You don’t want to fall and break an arm or a leg.

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If you have any comments on what you have read in this post, please email them to me. Also – if you have any ideas about subjects you would like to see discussed in future posts, please send me an email and let me know. My email address is bob.ooablog@gmail.com.