Play catch to boost balance and prevent falls, seniors told

  • Seniors
  • Wednesday, 21 Jan 2015

To ward off the ills of ageing, seniors should resort to a childhood favourite with a weighted ball, says researchers.

The brain uses two strategies to maintain balance, according to Dr Alexander Aruin of University of Illinois at Chicago, starting by activating the muscles in anticipation of jostling that could lead to a fall.

"When the perturbation is predictable, for example, if when walking down the street you see someone about to bump into you, you brace yourself," says Dr Aruin.

While the aforementioned strategy is protective, the second is corrective, according to the study, for the brain also engages the muscles after the jostling has occurred and often leads the body to take a step or change position.

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Referred to as anticipatory postural control, the ability to maintain one's balance fades with age, say the researchers, which explains why they are more likely to fall.

In one of Aruin's corresponding studies, he observed a group of healthy young adults as they played a game of catch and in another study, he did the same with an older group.

His research team recorded electrical activity in the leg and trunk muscles aiming to note the differences between the two age groups in terms of their capacity for anticipatory postural adjustments before and after the game.

Both groups showed improvement, and the older group shined in particular because they proved themselves capable of improving on tasks that hadn't been part of the training instilled during the game of catch.

"There was a transfer effect," says Aruin. "It tells us that – potentially – what people learn in the training might be helpful with other activities.

Aruin believes his group is the first to study whether a specially designed rehabilitation protocol can improve postural control adjustment and, with that, overall balance, too.

His studies, in which he says his participants report having thoroughly enjoyed the games of catch, have been published in the Journal Of Electromyography And Kinesiology And In Experimental Brain Research. – AFP Relaxnews

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