Test your balance by standing on one foot with your arms crossed in front of your chest and raising one leg so your foot is near but not touching your other ankle. How long can you hold the position? The average durations by age group are: 40-49, 42 seconds; 50 to 59, 41 seconds; 60-69, 32 seconds; 70-79, 21 seconds. If you are 50-plus and physically active, you probably will experience better-than-average duration.
Now try the same test with your eyes closed. Even if you are very active — unless you start your day with balance beam gymnastics or a unicycle ride — do not be surprised to find your time is not above average for your age group: 40-49, 13 seconds; 50-59, 8 seconds; 60-69, 4 seconds; 70-79, 3 seconds.
Maintaining a good sense of balance is a cornerstone of successful aging. It helps prevent falls and the fear of falling and contributes to a general sense of well-being, of feeling at home in one’s own body. Balance involves a complex interplay of physical and mental factors but depends on three sensory components: vision, the inner-ear (vestibular) system and proprioception, the subconscious sense of movement and position. For a detailed look at all three systems, see Scott McCredie’s “Balance: In Search of the Lost Sense.”