January 11, 2022

Balance and Me

by Dolaine Koch, ARTA Treasurer

Before I retired, I thought I was in pretty good shape. I tried to walk the school halls, used a ball chair or a kneeling chair, and was keeping a fairly steady weight. However, I was noticing a bit of pulling at the front of my hips and a sharp searing pain. It wasn’t too bad, but just enough to make me falter in my walk. I almost dropped to the floor inside a store when I was simply bending to pick something up off the floor (really embarrassing).

Once I did retire, I became much more aware of my balance and talked about it with my parents. I was looking for genetic information. Maybe there was something I could do. It turned out my dad had the same problem. He was going to an exercise program twice a week, but he also suffered this same pinching feeling that could just about make him drop on the spot. At the time, he refused to use a cane because he just didn’t want to. Long story short, he left the generic exercise program and hired two wonderful personal trainers. His exercises were serious. He bought equipment for home use as well, and before long he was doing so much better. Several years later, we were waiting for hip replacement surgery when COVID hit. Sadly, it wasn’t COVID that took him away from us, it was the much-extended wait for elective surgery to be re-booked. That’s another story.

In chats, Dad would say that it was easier to go upstairs than down. I challenged him on it because I had to make an effort to go upstairs but not to go down… until it changed for me too. I gained a few pounds once I retired; I love wine with my supper. I began to relate with him when my upper core started looming heavy. My first lesson on balance is to make sure you have a stronger upper body. Your muscles can control so much and even prevent you from hurting your back.

When my mom and dad went to Europe on their dream trip, my mother complained about walking over cobblestone roads. I didn’t say anything, but I was sad to hear that it had marred her experience. I forgot about it. Many years later, I took off running to cross a busy street and lost my balance, immediately falling into the road, skinning my knees and arms, and hurting my ego. Analysing my fall, it was bad shoes and a heavy upper body that forced me to lose my balance. You never know when you’ll fall off your high heel or misstep because of rough surfaces.

Another reminder that stands out happened when my son’s Setter was laying under and behind my chair as I was working on my laptop. I got up without warning and stepped on the dog’s tail. I quickly recovered, sidestepped, and the dog jumped away. My son, sitting about 3 meters away, dove to catch me because he was sure I was going to fall. It was a hilarious shock and the look on his face was priceless. I had been walking in the river valley almost daily for many months and was in pretty good shape. No harm, no foul. Thus, my third lesson is to make sure you exercise your ankles. My daughter-in-law is a physiotherapist and suggests a great exercise and test of balance and workout for the ankles. You stand on one foot for at least 20 seconds per leg, doing 10 reps per time, say while watching TV.

I experienced a fall last winter that made me rethink my ‘penguin walk’ style. I was on a hill, asphalt walkway, ice everywhere. I was doing fine. Except I didn’t realize that I was walking heel-toe. One heel hit a slight ice patch, forcing my right foot to slide under me, knocking my other foot out from under me. Secondly, I was leaning back a bit going downhill. Down I went on my backside. Two lessons here are to walk with the upper body centre or forward a bit and ensure you are walking on the front footpads rather than the heels.

There are many links you can look for to find data and advice. You just have to look here on the ARTA website!