According to the Centers for Disease Control, falls are pretty common for people over the age of 65. In fact, 1 out of every 3 people over 65 experiences a fall each year. But a fall is much more than a result of aging, it can be indicative of a person’s overall health and well-being. Muscle weakness, low blood pressure or poor eye sight can all be factors of a fall, but a huge cause for many falls among older folks is poor balance.
So how can one improve their balance as they age? A new study conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago found that playing catch can actually improve and restore the sense of balance in the elderly.
Lead researcher for the study, Alexander Aruin, and his colleagues examined two different groups for their research: healthy young men and older adults. They were all asked to perform a standing exercise of catching a medicine ball and were surprised to find that the exercise caused electrical currents in the leg muscles. The results were the same in both groups, the electrical currents in the legs showed improvements on anticipatory postural control and even bettered their ability in other tasks.
“There was a transfer effect," said Aruin. "It tells us that — potentially — what people learn in the training might be helpful with other activities.”
Like improving balance, for instance.
Having an older adult complete exercises that requires leg muscle movement will result in the body remembering its methods of restoring balance and ultimately reducing falls.
Balance and The Body
Our body controls our balance in two ways: anticipatory postural control and corrective motion control. Anticipatory postural control is when the brain predicts an imbalance due to an external event. The brain communicates with the skeletal muscles to brace itself and avert a fall.
The corrective control is the method used once the imbalance is caused. The brain communicates with the muscles to either maintain balance or prevent the fall, thus initiating a change in the position of the body.
As people age and lose their sense of balance, the body’s methods of preventing a fall are diminished. Once the anticipatory postural control is lost, the ability to anticipate the fall is lost as well, and a fall is inevitable. As the body ages and bone mass diminishes and the muscles weaken, a fall becomes detrimental to the body.
The study from Aruin and his team found a safe and easy way for elderly people to improve their sense of balance. The most important outcome? Failure to exercise regularly results in poor health. It is never too early to start building these healthy habits into our daily lives and improving our brain and heart health.