The Benefits of Active Aging: Balance Training

Does balance training play an important role when developing your customized Optimal Age fitness plan?
What is the best balance training techniques to incorporate into your fitness routine to improve or maintain your level of fitness as you get older?

To answer these questions, we tapped into Physiologist and Educator Angela Santoni, PhD to learn how to develop an active aging plan that supports YOUR individual goals, and allows you to take ownership of the controllable components of aging

Angela Santoni, PhD shares: 

Balance Training is a Myth

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • One in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year.
  • Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
  • Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
  • Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths.
  • In 2015, the total cost of fall injuries was $50 billion. Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of these costs.
  • The financial toll for older adult falls is expected to increase as the population ages and may reach $67.7 billion by 2020.

Falls, with or without injury, also carry a heavy quality of life impact.

A growing number of older adults fear falling and, as a result, limit their activities and social engagements. This can result in further physical decline, depression, social isolation, and feelings of helplessness.

In order to prevent falls, the OBVIOUS solution is train balance – correct?
Put simply the answer is NO.

The concept that one can even train “balance” is misleading and frankly FALSE. You cannot train balance. In fact, according to Pollock et al (2000) there is no universally accepted definition of human balance or related terms.

Being in a state of balance, indicates that the center of gravity is being maintained over a base of support. A fall occurs when the center of gravity goes beyond the base of support. It’s that simple. There are a number of factors that can contribute to a loss of balance regardless of age.

A better question then is not how to train for “balance”, instead, why are we more prone to falls with age and how do we prevent those falls?

The TRUTH is that with age the human body experiences a decline in skeletal muscle contractile protein at a rate of 1-2% muscle fiber size loss per year beginning in the 4th decade of life (in your 30’s). This loss of contractile protein results (on average) to a ½ pound mandatory loss of muscle fiber annually starting at the age of 30. These losses result in changes to posture and strength. Movement itself begins to change as the shape and size of the body change, how the center of gravity engages with the base of support will also change.

More importantly POWER decreases at a much higher rate than strength. On average, there is a power loss of 8.3% per decade after age 20.

While strength is the maximal force you can apply against a load, power is proportional to the speed at which you can apply this maximal force.

Power is the ability to exert a maximal force in as short a time as possible, as in accelerating, jumping and throwing implements. Power dictates how quickly the body can react to changes in terrain, and really dictates how agile the body remains as we age.

So how do you prevent falls? Do not waste your time with balance exercises if your goal is to prevent falls, HIT THE WEIGHTS!

TRAIN FOR STRENGTH AND POWER

While most understand how to lift a weight for 12- 15 reps for 3 sets to fatigue (strength) power can be a bit more elusive.

A great and fun power workout can be done using kettlebells workout or heading to the gym and learn some Olympic lifts. The weights are moved faster are heavier than a weight you could lift 12-15 times.

The recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine is to do 1-3 sets (at 40-60%of 1-RM) for 6-10 repetitions at high velocity, progressing from machines to free weights.

And remember that regardless of your age and current ability you CAN start both strength training AND power training immediately. Because the weight is relative to the number of repetitions (strength 12-15 reps at a normal speed, power at 6-10 reps at a more rapid speed) the weight will be specific to your current ability.

The worst thing you could do however is start “balance” training, the concept that one can even train “balance” is misleading and frankly FALSE.

- Clin Rehabil. 2000 Aug;14(4):402-6.What is balance?Pollock AS1, Durward BR, Rowe PJ, Paul JP.
- Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition and Human Performance Sixth Edition. William McArdle, Frank I. Katch, VictorL. Katch. ©2007 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Page 892




Share this story: