Stronger Seniors Posture & Balance
Recently I saw Carol Burnett guest star on Hawaii Five-O, and I said to my husband “See her spine, she looks much younger than her age.” She was portraying Steve McGarrett’s aunt, whereas she actually could have been his great aunt. I’m not referring to plastic surgery, because many stars purchase that youth, but what you can’t purchase is the posture. She is aging gracefully, and making it appear easy.
What makes a person seem old, regardless of her age? Try observing pedestrians walking. Some people shift in a pattern, with the upper body weaving side to side. Others have their head forward, looking down at the street in front of them, with their upper back and shoulders hunched forward. Another group of people walk with chin forward (extended cervical vertebrae) and pelvis in a posterior tilt, shuffling along.
Although many factors influence a person’s gait, for the purpose of this article – highlighting my IAFC 2015 land master class – I am addressing posture and balance.
Posture is the alignment of the musculoskeletal system. Ideal postural alignment is the balance of bony structures along a plumb line, which is the most efficient position for the musculoskeletal system. Ideal alignment provides ease of movement in daily tasks such as walking, bending, standing, and sitting. This allows joint positions that accept mechanical forces with the least load and injury.
When muscles are tight and/or shortened (decreased ROM), they can pull the bony structures off alignment. Conversely, when muscles and ligaments are elongated, and/or loose, they can allow too much movement in a joint.
In Pilates, an initial posture analysis is performed to determine client workout goals. The analysis is mostly static, including front, back and side views, and a roll down flexing forward. During Pilates certification courses, one thing that new teachers struggle with is finding and assessing the bony landmarks used for determining alignment. However, after doing posture analysis on many different body types, this skill can develop into the ability to take a snapshot of the client, and quickly note the imbalances.
Florence P. Kendall and Elizabeth Kendall McCreary outline typical posture types and the related muscular imbalances in the book, “Muscles: Testing and Function”. These include ideal alignment, kyphosis, lordosis, flat back, sway back, and military type. In the IAFC workshop, we will take a look at these postural types and muscular imbalances.
Balance is an even distribution of weight, enabling someone to remain upright and steady. Dynamic (functional) balance is the ability to constantly reevaluate one’s center of gravity, and make corrective adjustments. While there are many detailed vestibular balance tests and exercises, I will address balance as even weight distribution, the center of gravity over the base of support.
Listed below are four ways to improve balance:
1. Increase kinesthetic awareness.
2. Increase strength of the core stabilizers.
3. Practice moving away from the base of support, and recovering.
4. Increase responsiveness and strength of the lower extremities.
Posture is not only a factor in training older adults; it is necessary for all ages. Many people in the work force are at a computer all day and have postural issues, but now that the main means of communication is texting on a phone, spinal alignment is even further compromised. Modern lifestyles and lack of strength in the core and erector spinae muscles are affecting the posture of people at younger ages. Balance training needs to begin early. While training clients in their 20’s and 30’s, I noticed difficult in ability to stand on one leg and press the Stability Chair pedal with the other foot. This is a movement pattern needed for daily tasks, such as putting on pants on one leg at a time… something a young adult should have no trouble performing.
The intricate relationship of posture and balance is a complex web of constant assessing and reassessing center of gravity and center of our building structure (bone alignment). Both are important in fall prevention, functional movement, injury prevention, organ function, and relief of tension.
Alastair Bruce, historical advisory on the set of Downtown Abbey, shares in a documentary called “The Manners of Downtown Abbey” how the cast practices the art of posture by emulating the behaviors of the aristocrats and servants in the Edwardian Era. “Manners came into everything: how you dressed, how you ate, how you stood, how you spoke – every detail mattered. It said who you were, and where you belonged: if you were from above stairs or below,” says Bruce. While people today struggle with the seemingly arbitrary rules, it was effortless for those who lived in that era.
Ah, that our balance and posture might become more effortless with practice. Join me at this IAFC land master class to learn how!
Kendall, F. P., McCreary, E. K., & Provance, P. G. (1993). Muscles, testing and function: With Posture and pain. Baltimore, Md: Williams & Wilkins.
Treble, Patricia. (December 31, 2014) Down- town Abbeys’ masterof Edwardian manners. http://www.macleans.ca/culture/television/downton-abbeys-master-of-edwardian-manners/