As we exceed 40-years of life, medical practitioners remind us that we are not as young as we may think we are. The medical advice we receive has a strong emphasis on heart health. This usually outlines the importance of eating right, getting a recommended amount of exercise, and maintaining low-stress levels. One health-related topic that historically has been overlooked is the need to maintain physical balance.
As a normal part of aging, we experience a loss in muscle mass. This muscular atrophy leads to a decrease in strength and agility, which are key components of balance. As a result, one in three individuals over 65-years-old will experience a fall each year. As stated by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as one-third of those incidents will lead to moderate or serious injury.
This weakening of the muscles due to age is known as Sarcopenia and will take place in everyone. Though it is natural for the body, this will have a greater impact on individuals who are less physically active. When muscles deteriorate, so does the ability for the nerve to send an accurate response to the brain and the muscles to adjust body mass to stay upright. Just like any other system in the body, we are able to work towards improving nerve strength, thus delaying normal muscle mass loss. The elaborate network responsible for our balance is the proprioceptive system.
“Our proprioceptors are constantly making adjustments to where we are in space in order to prevent a fall,” Doctor of Physical Therapy, John Soberal, said.
For clients over 40-years-old, Dr. Soberal has a particular exercise he has found to be all-encompassing for balance and establishes cardiovascular and neurological benefits.
“Standup paddle boarding really focuses on training the proprioceptive feedback and neuromuscular control to thoroughly improve balance. It will prevent muscle atrophy and maintain an efficient and responsive proprioceptive system,” Dr. Soberal said.
Standup paddle boarding has helped a broad range of individuals with pre-existing conditions like Osteoarthritis or previous muscle and tendon injuries. Dr. Soberal frames the necessity of fall preventative activities in all patients over 40-years-old, as well as educates patients on the importance of intentional proprioceptive workouts.
“When you are on a paddle board you have to consistently make those small adjustments,” Dr. Soberal said. “Your brain isn’t actively saying what needs to happen in each and every muscle, your body’s autopilot is taking care of it for you.”
A 20-minute paddle, two or more days a week, can be the best and safest balance discipline to build strong neurological communication between the muscles and brain. Dr. Soberal suggests a touring style standup paddle board, and has found one particular board ideal for patient training; Tahoe SUP – PaddleCraft. This ultra stable paddle board was designed with a low and wide standing platform to evenly distribute the user’s center of mass nearer to the surface of the water. This gives beginner paddlers the advantage of cohesion on the water while maintaining maneuverability.
According to the National Council of Aging, fall-related injuries in the United States led to $31 Billion in medical services in 2014. Preventative training in the proprioceptive system could drastically reduce chances of experiencing a fall-related injury. As a non-jarring and anaerobic activity, standup paddle boarding is professionally recommended to improve balance and heart health. Consult your physician to see if getting outside, taking in fresh air, and enjoying physical activity is right for you. Always remember to take water safety seriously: know your limits, wear a leash and a Personal Floatation Device, be informed on local paddling policies, and go out with a paddling partner.