ASK KOS- “What can seniors do to help with balance?”

Akosua Akoto

Here to give you the facts. You make the decision.


What exercises do you recommend for seniors who want to be/stay healthy with equilibrium issues?


Before we get into the exercises, lets make sure that we are treating the right thing.  Issues with equilibrium, particularly in individuals over the age of 60, can be attributed to many conditions. Individuals experiencing dizziness an imbalance are often given ineffectual care, as the nature, causes and therefore treatment of these symptoms can be puzzling to physicians.  For example, dizziness can occur as a result of postural hypotension (a drop in systolic blood pressure after standing for more than a minute), light-headedness after moving too quickly from a seated to standing position etc.; all of which are not necessarily caused  by the degeneration of the systems responsible for balance. So first thing’s first, be sure to see your doctor should you feel chronic dizziness, instability, or even the fear of falling.

We are almost to the exercises. We just have to make sure we understand the whys and hows. I appreciate your trust in me, but at the end of the day, it’s your body so make sure you understand it!  But I don’t want to unnecessarily overload your brain. So, I’m going to attack this with 5 important terms.

  1. Body Awareness- This is truly an underrated phenomenon. We are always looking for ways to improve our bodies but it seems to occur from the outside in….wrong direction guys. Body awareness is the conversation between the mind and body that allows us to sense the individual parts and their connection to the whole. It is the perception of both gross and fine motor skills within the body. Before you do anything, even getting up in the morning, just take a second to make sure you have all your parts without actually looking for them. Silly I know. But just try it.
  2. Orientation- Now that we actually FEEL our bodies, lets try and feel our bodies in the environment and (as corny as it may sound) in connection to the earth. Dr. Claude Hobeika, MD (and I will be quoting him a lot here) defines Orientation as the awareness to the relationship of the body parts to each other and the environment in a dynamic and reciprocal interaction.
  3. Balance- Now that we have a sense of ourselves, and where we are, we want to create harmony between the two in the form of dynamic motion.
  4. Center of Gravity (COG)- Your center of gravity is a hypothetical point upon which a constant downward force acts. Lets get our body awareness spidey senses tingling. If (a giant) someone were to hold you on the tip of a finger, where would that be? THAT is your COG. Now imagine a line through that center pointing down toward the center of the earth. This will represent the force of gravity. Visualizing it will help maintain balance. Balance is achieved when we keep the body perpendicular to the center of the support base. When this line falls outside of that 90 degree angle to the base of support, instability arises, and fairly quickly. That awareness, and that angle created by the straight line that CONNECTS US TO THE EARTH brings us to our next point.
  5. Posture- Here’s where we tie everything together. Yep!, already! When we think posture, we think position. Posture is simply the body’s position as it relates and adapts to various and dynamic forces in the environment. Muscle strength, jointy mobility AND stability, and healthy feet play a major role in maintaining posture, alignemnt and balance. Speaking of feet, you have quite a few spidey senses down there too! Stability and all movement starts from the feet. We cannot connect too well with the earth if our feet are always covered. Every now and then, if you can, take those shoes off. Feel the 4 corners of your foot connected to the ground.  Now lets get back to those dynamic forces, the most fundamental being that downward pull of gravity. In a constant effort to align itself with this force, the postural control system is continuously receiving information from receptors in the body via
    1. Proprioceptors- little spidey senses (don’t take that literally) that respond to the body’s position and movements
    2. Visual receptors- spidey senses (again just a little joke, we don’t have spidey senses) that give the body information about the physical environment. Visual imputs are the primary back-ups when the proprioceptors become deficient. Note that clear vision depends on a stable gaze.
    3. The vestibular system – spidey senses (keeping it light here) that control muscular activity and thus motor function.

The vestibular system is one of the areas that begins to degenerate with age. However, this alone does not cause dizziness. We experience a loss in equilibrium when all 3 of these systems begin to break down. Being a personal trainer, I am going to let the physicians do what they do and I will attack this from the angle of….you guessed it, POSTURE! Take a look at the image to the right.  This is what we call Kyphosis. Age-related Kyphosis is an exaggerated anterior curvature of the thoracic spine. It places the COG in a forward position outside of our imaginary line that we use our spidey senses to keep in that perpendicular angle, thus taking us past the periphery limits of stability. The forward head of a kyphotic posture impairs our orientation as the eyes are fixated down on the floor, limiting our visual field.


Now that we have covered all of this I would like to recommend exercises that

  • Correct or prevent kyphosis
  • Strengthen the core musculature for a stronger COG as well as muscles responsible for gross motor skills
  • Increase orientation and body awareness through a stronger mind/body connection and strengthening muscles responsible for fine motor skills.

Since it is much more effective to show then tell. Check out the links below. PLEASE CONSULT WITH YOUR PHYSICIAN BEFORE PERFROMING THESE EXERCISES

Correcting or preventing kyphosis

Core stabilization exercises-

Increase orientation and awareness-

Also check out this 17 minute exercise video for balance. Be sure to take your time and LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Slow down or stop should you feel the need to.

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