Declining balance and decreased physical ability are classically attributed to physical age, but we at Fit-Rx challenge the notion that the two are directly correlated. Although there are some age-related declines and a few genetic factors that may guide how we age, we believe much of the trouble is simply due to a decrease in fast-paced and powerful movements over a long period of time.
According to numerous studies, balance, strength, and power (the ability to move weight quickly) all begin to decline around age 40, with power declining at the highest rate. This is partially due to unavoidable physiological deterioration, but many of the changes associated with “normal” aging are actually due to adaptations the body makes in response to reduced physical activity. Performing regular, vigorous activities throughout one’s life is the best way to retain one’s ability to be active for as long as possible, as evidenced by the “Blue Zone” population (those in Italy, Greece, Japan, and Costa Rica who have lower rates of chronic disease and longer life expectancy).
Many health clubs, fitness studios, and senior oriented organizations seek to help the aging population maintain strength and balance through various programs and classes. However, many of these activities, while hypothetically sound, have not been shown to offer tangible benefits in increasing life activity or decreasing fall risk.
A recent study in the Journal of Gerontology states, “Many strategies to improve balance dysfunction, a major risk factor for falls, have included specific balance training strategies, strength training, walking, Tai Chi, and multidimensional exercises. Few interventions, however, have showed consistent positive outcomes in balance.”
These results make sense because “when threats to balance (narrowed base of support, perturbation, loss of vision, or proprioception) occur, rapid responses must be engaged to maintain postural stability. “
The speed at which one is able to correct to maintain balance or recover from a stumble is really the key determinant of successful locomotion and activity, and is a primary indicator of balance deficit, fall risk and decreasing physical ability in those over 50.
As previously mentioned, many modalities currently exist to attempt to address balance and mobility, but they are not proven to provide tangible benefit in decreasing fall risk and maintaining an active lifestyle. So where does the answer lie, you ask?
According to research, emerging studies have shown that progressive, lighter load, high velocity resistance (power) training increases muscular strength and endurance, and through increased contraction velocity, also improves balance. For the aging population this is a win, win, win!!
One glaring downside, however, is the lack of availability of exercises that can be done in a low impact environment and safe enough for all to participate.
Our business, Fit-Rx, is able to address these challenges head on. Our unique equipment and programming are truly a paradigm shift in the practice of aging well. To my knowledge we are the only facility in Colorado able to “power train” our clients aged 40 to 90 in a low impact and safe environment to promote optimal balance, mobility, and confidence to pursue their most active lives, regardless of starting ability. Come visit us for the new year and get back to ADDING activities to your bucket list!