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Stabilization: An Integral Part of Real Life Function

© Gregory L. Welch MS, ATC

Greg Welch, M.S., is an exercise physiologist and president of SpeciFit, An Agency of Wellness and Competitive Performance Enhancement, located in Seal Beach, California. Mr. Welch has published several articles in a wide spectrum of national journals. He travels extensively, lecturing to personal trainers across the country, and serves on the board of advisors of the Lifespan Wellness Center at California State University, Fullerton. He is the consulting physiologist to the Heartwise Fitness Institute in Whittier, California, and is a senior instructor for the American Academy of Fitness Professionals. Mr. Welch also serves as a consultant to the American Senior Fitness Association.

Slowly but surely America is awakening to the realization that resistance training is a necessary component of Wellness. For the older adult, weight lifting -- a term often used interchangeably with resistance training -- is more than just necessary; it is crucial. Independent living cannot be continued if the body's lean muscle tissue is not maintained. While there are many benefits directly associated with resistance training, the intention of this article is to focus on the importance of stabilization as it relates to functioning within the scenario of "real life."

This "real life" scenario pertains to the lifestyle of any individual and literally involves putting one foot in front of the other in order to carry out daily functions. Although diversity and intensity of lifestyle activities varies greatly among individuals, the common denominator to all physical activity is lean muscle tissue. In other words, muscle is the key to locomotion. Problems faced by the older adult include not only the general effects of aging, but also the outright neglect of physical exercise specific to maintaining lean muscle tissue.

Yet another issue of concern involves the widespread lack of understanding (and, indeed, a pervasive disbelief) that older adults should engage in muscle building exercise. Weight lifting is commonly thought to be only for the young. Older adults often fear sustaining injury or aggravating joints and muscles wherein discomfort is already a part of daily existence. This mentality fuels the fire for even further physical inactivity. The research clearly shows that reduced muscle mass is a primary factor responsible for the age-associated loss of strength that reflects a decline in total muscle protein brought about by inactivity, aging, or both.

By taking a closer look at human locomotion, one can begin to appreciate the fact that muscle tissue throughout the body works within patterns of synchronization. There is never a time when the body is performing a simple function of daily living that one muscle acts alone. Moving through the kitchen, preparing a meal, tending to the garden, or just opening a window requires a concerted effort by a variety of muscles. Some muscles initiate a movement while others are necessary to curtail the action. Most importantly for the older adult, however, are the muscles that sustain and stabilize the body in order for the primary movement to occur in the first place.

By observing the walking gait pattern, one can identify many aspects of stabilization. Upon every strike of the heel, musculature from the ankle to the knee, through the hip and back, to the shoulders and neck must engage to stabilize the body, thus allowing the primary movement to continue. This collective effort, referred to as proprioception, is more commonly known as balance.

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