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Benefits of Lifting Weights Later in Life: Part III Balance

One of the most frequent habits I have noticed in patients with balance deficits is what I like to call “furniture surfing.” Furniture surfing is classified by navigating the house by utilizing the couch, the wall, the countertop, or any piece of furniture in the house to assist with balance. Balance, safety, and decreasing fall risk is a major concern for most people and health officials are taking extensive measures to promote prevention and education. Do you catch yourself reaching for objects to help maintain your balance? If so, you’re not alone. One in three Americans over 65 will fall this year, and over two thirds of this population has a fear of falling. Unfortunately, age related balance loss is widespread and often multifactorial. With many contributing factors, determining the proper course of action can be challenging; however, as I have hinted to in articles one and two (Benefits of weight training later in life), guided resistance exercises have tremendous positive effects, including improved balance and safety.

The Vestibular System

Balance is complex system which is controlled by three major systems: the vestibular system (inner ear), somatosensory system (skin, muscles, tendons, etc), and the visual system. For a quick overview, the vestibular system is controlled by several different organs in your inner ear. These small organs relay spatial information to the brain. The provide information on speed, direction, and acceleration/deceleration—pretty important if you’re falling.


Somatosensation is comprised of receptors in joints, muscles, and tendons which tell your brain where your body is in space. If you’re walking across the parking lot and you step into a pothole (a very likely scenario these days) you’ll need accurate information on how to correct your posture to avoid hitting the ground. Your somatosensory system provides information to the brain on the positions of your joints, muscles, and tendons.

The Visual System

The visual system is typically where we’ve become most reliant. The visual system utilizes your eyes provide real time feedback to keep your gaze and visual field steady. Typically, the visual system becomes compromised when we fail to flip a light on in the middle of the night or neglect the use of our glasses.

With all systems functioning at 100% our balance is great; however, when one (or more) of these systems becomes compromised our balance is affected. The end result is verbalized as “feeling off” or falling in previously unlikely scenarios. Our systems can be compromised for various reasons. Our vision can be effected by age related changes, disease, or simply poor vision. The somatosensory system can become comprised by peripheral neuropathy, a condition of the nerves that may result from diabetes or alcohol abuse. Our vestibular system can be compromised from a concussion, virus, or deterioration.

A research study performed on men and women above the age of 75 showed that through a guided strengthening program individuals improved their balance scores to the scores of those up to 10 years younger (Wolfson, et al 1996.) Now wouldn’t we all like to feel 10 years younger? Another study performed determined that through just 10 weeks of resistance training people with impaired balance were able to improve both static (standing still) and dynamic (moving) balance to decrease their risk of falls.

Increasing strength not only improves your muscles abilities to pull you back upright, but also improves bone strength, which can be extremely important if a fall occurs. Throughout the day we face many challenges or disturbances to our balance. Walking in the dark, fighting a gust of wind, getting in/out of the bathtub, and pivoting in the kitchen are everyday opportunities to fall if your balance in compromised.

While there is no way to turn back the clock and reverse the aging process, the ability to maintain and even improve on your balance, safety, mobility, strength, and bone density is in your control. It is time to get off the couch, quit furniture surfing, and to “never get old.” We are concluding the benefits of resistance training with a FREE community education class on Thursday April 30th at 7 PM and on Friday May 29th at 11 am at the YMCA Independent Health Family Branch in Williamsville. Come learn more about the importance of lifting weights later in life and find everyday exercises to improve your strength and balance.


Wolfson, Leslie, Robert Whipple, Carol Derby, James Judge, Mary King, Paula Amerman, Julia Schmidt, and Donna Smyers. “Balance and Strength Training in Older Adults: Intervention Gains and Tai Chi Maintenance.”Journal of American Geriatric Society 44 (1996): 498-506. Web.

Hess, Jennifer A., and Marjorie Woollacott. “Effect of High Intensity Strength Training on Functional Measures of Balance Ability of Balance-Impaired Older Adults.” Journal of Manipulative and Physiologic Therapies 28.8 (2005): 582-90. Web.