Fishmaster’s Corner

by Tony Jelinek – Fishmaster, Rivers & Stream

“Keeping Your Balance”

(adapted from Berkeley Wellness: “Keeping Your Balance as You Age”)

If you are an active stream angler, you find yourself spending the day trying to stay on your feet dealing with slippery rocks and the river current constantly battling you for your balance. As we get older, we find it more difficult to maintain our balance, which is, unfortunately, a part of the aging process.

Having good balance is relatively complex. Balance is the integration of various sensory and motor systems, including: vision, the vestibular system in the inner ear (which monitors motion and provides orientation clues) and what is called “proprioception” (the ability to sense where your body is in space). To stay on your feet, you also need good muscle strength, joint flexibility, and reaction time.

As we get older, our ability to stay balanced decreases due to loss of muscle strength and joint flexibility, as well as reduced vision and reaction time. Also, the risk of inner ear dysfunction, which can throw you off balance, increases with age.

But, do not give up hope. If you are willing to work at it, you may be able to continue stalking that prize fish lurking around the next river bend, behind that rock, which is just one more step into the river.

Here are few things that you can do to help. You may even find a new fun activity.

Exercise – such as brisk walking, running, and strength training – helps improve balance. Any activity that increases strength, especially in our lower limbs, as well as agility, is worthwhile. Even golf, aquatic exercise, and interactive dance video games have been shown to help.

You may want to try tai chi. Studies have documented its ability to improve balance and decrease falls in both healthy and ill people. The ancient practice involves slow, balanced low-impact movements done in sequences; it builds confidence, coordination, muscle strength, and all-around fitness.

Walk on cobblestones (can this be interpreted to mean spend more time fishing rocky streams?): Walking on uneven paths is good for balance. You can buy a cobblestone mat for about $40 to use at home. Walk for a half hour on cobblestones two or three times a week, in addition to regular walking and strengthening exercise.

Some other exercises include the following:
• Without holding onto anything, rise up on your toes 10 times. Repeat with your eyes closed
• Stand on one leg, bending the other knee slightly, for 10 to 15 seconds; switch legs; repeat 10 times. Then do again with your eyes closed.
• Walk a straight line, placing the heel of one foot directly in front of the other foot.

With a little work, you should be able to extend your wading days and even avoid winning the “Wet Fly Award”.

(Source: Berkeley Wellness. “Keeping Your Balance as You Age”. November 1, 2011.