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Balancing act

Maris Grove’s balance course boosts safety and confidence

Created date

February 25th, 2014
Maris Grove’s balance course boosts safety and confidence
Maris Grove’s balance course boosts safety and con

People who live at  Grove, EricksonLiving’s retirement community in Delaware County, Pa., have endless fitness opportunities. 

They can walk the 87-acre grounds or the indoor, climate-controlled loop of hallways and bridges connecting the campus buildings. They can swim or work out at the campus aquatics and fitness center. They can join any number of fitness-related classes and groups. 

They can also take the Balance and Mobility class. 

“As adults, we don’t jump on the bed or climb trees,” says the class instructor, Fitness Center Manager John O’Donnell. “We lose some of those natural balancing abilities because we don’t pay attention to them. This class makes you mindful of them.”

Back to balance

A balance pre-test evaluates a participant’s overall balance plus three specific balance systems: visual, vestibular (middle ear), and somatosensory (feeling grounded). A post-test follows the course.

Throughout the 16-session, 8-week course and under the watchful eyes of O’Donnell and Wellness Coordinator Missy Scheer, participants practice exercises that reinforce those systems. 

For some exercises, they use altered bases of support such as a staggered stance, tandem stance, and single-leg stance; they work on posture, gait, and endurance; and they play games to practice weight shifting and build upper body strength.

A challenging exercise involves standing on foam cushions, which removes a person’s sense of feeling grounded; it tests the somatosensory system. Standing there with eyes closed removes visual clues, leaving only the vestibular system for balance. 

Because the cushion exercises can seem intimidating, for safety, O’Donnell and Scheer stand next to and even hold hands with participants.

Eyes up

When Peggy Hoath took the class following hip replacement surgery, she learned a simple tip that improved her balance and her confidence: when you walk, look ahead; don’t look down.

O’Donnell emphasizes other common but sometimes forgotten tactics like making eye contact with others to avoid collisions when walking within the community. 

“And when it’s dark, keep a nightlight in place and a flashlight handy,” he says. “The goal is prevention.”