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The Case for Balance & Motion Exercises

In the early 70’s Dr. Kenneth Cooper published his excellent books on aerobic fitness. We were reminded about the importance of exercise. Dr Cooper is even credited with “coining the phrase” Aerobics. His books offered “down to earth” explanations of the research done at The Cooper Aerobic Center and included quantifiable suggestions on how much, how hard, and how often to exercise aerobically to maintain health. The media got involved, other books were written on running, walking, and cycling. These books spawned the “running craze” that led to “fun runs”, running groups, walking paths and more. As the demands for aerobic activity increased gyms added more “cardio” equipment. All good!

Many stepped up and started an exercise regime – often a lifetime pursuit. As we age, however, our capacities and our abilities change. Even if we have been routinely active, we may not be able to do the same activities that we used to do. Because of joint pain, runners become cyclists or walkers etc. Because of tightness and weakness of the hip musculature even walking becomes more difficult! Our capabilities change but our need for exercise remains.

What, then, can we do to remain active? In the United States the focus has been on aerobic exercise. For good reasons. Studies have shown that aerobic exercise will improve cardiovascular function in a normally healthy individual, it will also help with weight control, and improve our general health – all vitally important. But aerobic capacity is only one component of our fitness needs, strength reserves, flexibility, and balance are also important for our health and well-being. It could be debated whether they are, in themselves, protective of the heart, but they are important for maintaining movement quality and function. A training program aimed at maintaining and improving our functional movement patterns will help keep us moving. Aging does not have to lead to losing movement capabilities.

 

There is an acronym that is commonly used in teaching about exercise:

 

SAID PRINCIPLE
Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands

This is an important concept for us to understand. When you look at it closely, you will become aware that you already have an intuitive understanding of this concept. If you systematically train to improve strength, balance, flexibility, or aerobic capacity you will impose a demand on your body that is greater than just day-to-day activities. Your body “adapts” - the adaptation is “specific” to the type of exercise that you are doing. For instance, if you are doing aerobic activity exclusively, you will likely maintain or improve your heart health and aerobic capacities, but your muscle strength scales down to what you commonly ask the muscles to do – you are likely getting weaker.

Let’s say you are an avid walker or even a runner. Great! Don’t stop! Nevertheless, if you are not doing something for arm strength or overall flexibility, you are slowly getting weaker and tighter. You are also likely losing bone density - at least of the upper body.

This SAID principle applies to flexibility, balance, even cognitive skills. The term “Use It or Lose It” really has meaning when you consider our physical and mental capacities. Bottom Line: If it is a physical or mental trait that we value, we need to use it to maintain it. We need to systematically train it to increase it. It’s an important quality-of-life issue.

You probably wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t interested in exercising. That’s great! Perhaps you have looked on the internet for some exercises. Anyone can easily find a series of exercises that are “great for you”. But most of these exercise programs are aimed for the young – you don’t see a lot of “60 somethings” doing “boot camp”! (You may be “young at heart” but your body may disagree with your age assessment.) What kind? How much? How often? How long? These are all important considerations at any age. Some questions you need to consider are:
 

  1.  Are these exercises appropriate for me, at my age, for my goals and at my fitness level?
     

  2. What will this particular exercise do for me?
     

  3. Is there a better exercise for my time invested?

 

I will try to give you some answers to these questions. As a Functional Movement Trainer, I routinely told my clients that if they asked and I couldn’t tell them specifically what an exercise is doing for them (what muscles are being used, how this will improve their movement characteristics etc.), we would completely stop doing the exercise. They rarely asked, but if they had, I would have been able to do just that. Why would I suggest something that I didn’t understand?

My pledge to you is this: I will not suggest an exercise if I can’t precisely explain the benefits and if that exercise is not appropriate for the goals of an older age group! If you really want to know, ask! My answer should be:

 

  1. It will be beneficial to your movement function because: and
     

  2. it is age- appropriate because:. “It’s a great exercise, I tried it myself” is not an answer. To me that translates to: “I have no idea, but it must be great because it’s hard. Hard is not necessarily better!

 

Three caveats:
 

  1. The series of exercises that I will present are designed

    for maintaining and increasing movement characteristics (function) as we age but can be beneficial at any age.
     

  2. If I suggest that an exercise is good for balance, you should consider doing it near a wall, couch or chair to prevent falling.
     

  3. If you are interested in “body building” (sculpting or developing individual muscle groups) this program will miss the mark for you.
     

My goal is to help adults maintain and improve muscle tone, posture, and balance as we age; and to have good movement skills for daily and recreational activities. Routinely practice the exercises that I have outlined, and it will likely happen to you.
 

JB

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