The game that could save your life

As you age, your lack of balance can be fatal: After age 65, falls and broken bones are serious health issues. But a simple kids’ game can help protect you.

The life-saving game, according to researchers at University of Illinois at Chicago is a game of catch. The scientists found that tossing around a weighted medicine ball improves coordination and balance while decreasing the risk of falling.

The researchers note that if you are bumped by someone or you stumble because of unevenness in the ground, your brain has recourse to two strategies for keeping your balance and not falling: If you see the bump coming, you get ready for it. If you stumble unexpectedly, you have to struggle to prevent yourself from toppling over.

“When the perturbation is predictable, for example, if when walking down the street you see someone about to bump into you, you brace yourself,” says researcher Alexander Aruin. In that case, your brain mobilizes muscles to anticipate the bump.

If you don’t see the threat to your balance coming, your brain calls muscles into action after you begin to stumble. That can entail taking extra steps or adjusting your body posture.

But when you get older, your ability to brace yourself to keep your balance decreases. Consequently, your muscles don’t become adequately prepared for an encounter. That makes you less stable and more likely to hit the ground.

The scientists think that playing catch may be able to offset some of this loss of stability. During games of catch, they analyzed the electrical activity of muscles in the legs and trunks and found that muscle coordination could improve in the elderly.

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

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Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.