Playing catch with weighted medicine ball improves balance, could prevent falls

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Playing catch with weighted medicine ball improves balance, could prevent falls
Playing catch with weighted medicine ball improves balance, could prevent falls

Catching a weighted medicine ball as a form of exercise can increase balance and could aid in preventing falls in the elderly, according to a new study.

When someone is thrown off balance by being bumped into or stumbling over something, normal balance function in the brain—called “perturburation” — takes over to stop a person from falling, according to Alexander Aruin, professor of physical therapy at the University of Illinois at Chicago and principal investigator on the study.

“When the perturbation is predictable, for example, if when walking down the street you see someone about to bump into you, you brace yourself,” Aruin says in a news release. In other words, the brain then knows to brace muscles to expect a shock.

Secondly, the brain tries to correct the movement of the muscles after being jolted to prevent losing balance by taking an extra step, for example, or changing the position of the body.

It is a normal part of aging to lose this ability to keep our balance. Aruin says there is a compensatory action put into place instead, which is not always stable and can lead to falls.

We know a lot about the elements of postural control,” says Aruin.

He and his colleagues have begun to analyze what special exercises could help people anticipate being thrown off balance and to prevent falling. They took healthy young adults and had them catch a heavy medicine ball, while measuring the electrical activity of their leg and trunk muscles to see how they made anticipatory postural adjustments before and after the workout. They also tested older adults using the same exercises.

After the exercises, both groups improved.

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

“Our group is the first to look at whether a specially designed rehabilitation protocol can enhance postural control adjustment and subsequently improve overall balance,” he adds.

Aruin plans to evaluate how the training affects participants long-term and whether it has a lasting benefit.

An extra bonus was that almost all the people in the study liked participating in the training exercise, Aruin said.

“It seems that most people have very positive memories associated with playing catch,” he says.

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