As we age, we tend to become less coordinated with a weaker mind-muscle connection. To counteract this, keep moving and challenging yourself. Below are specific strategies for power training, balance training and reaction drills from ACSM-certified exercise physiologist Tony Maloney, fitness center manager at the National Institute for Fitness and Sport.
Dina Cheney: Why do you think some adults are less coordinated?
Tony Maloney: I think they are just out of practice, not necessarily less coordinated. A majority of people move less as they age, definitely decreasing activities that improve coordination, such as power training and moving the body through all the planes of motion. [According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, these planes include the sagittal (which divides the body into left and right halves), frontal (front and back halves) and transverse (top and bottom halves).] Some older adults are less coordinated because—as with most activities—it takes constant work to maintain and improve a skill. The less people move, the more drastic the drop-off of skills will be.
DC: Why do you think some adults have a weaker mind-muscle connection?
TM: There can be several reasons for this. On the physiological front, there can be decreases in lean muscle mass and synaptic number and function. Lifestyle-wise, the same daily routines devoid of new experiences can hinder an individual’s neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change and adapt). Other such causes can include physical inactivity, a lack of activities focused on challenging the mind (like too much TV) and not participating in exercise early in life. Another cause is hereditary: Maybe you didn’t have a strong connection to begin with.
DC: Why is it so important to have a strong mind-muscle connection?
TM: A stronger connection improves your independence, enjoyment of daily life and movement patterns. It also decreases your risk of falling. Older adults tend to shuffle when they walk due to the loss of the mind-muscle connection, which can lead to slips and trips.
DC: Can adults improve their coordination and mind-muscle connection?
TM: Yes. Although some biological and physiological changes are unavoidable as we age, with the proper interventions and exercise programs, the mind-muscle connection can be improved.
DC: What are the best ways adults can improve their coordination?
TM: Power training. Although power training will look different for a pro athlete versus a 70-year-old, you can still power-train safely to help improve coordination. Here are some recommended moves:
- Power stand: Stand up quickly from a seated position.
- Small hops (if you have no contraindications to this movement)
- Medicine-ball moves: Toss [a ball] to a wall, slam, and drop and catch
- Small squat to press with small hand weights (if you have no contraindications to this movement)
- Move in different directions and levels, in a safe environment
- Walk backward
- Walk tracing a box (box step)
- Hinge to pick something up off the ground and put it on a shelf
- Take lateral crossover steps
- Do trunk rotations
- Step forward with trunk rotations
DC: What are the best ways adults can improve their mind-muscle connection?
TM: Do yoga, which is tried-and-true for mind-body work. Get out and play with the kids or grandkids, skip once in a while, and try a sport like golf or tennis. Also, begin a balance-training routine, such as the following:
- Stand on one foot: Aim for 10 seconds and gradually increase the time
- Stand on one foot with your eyes closed
- Stand on one foot on an unstable surface (like a couch cushion)
- March, lifting [your] knees as high as possible
- March with a load: Hold a kettlebell in one hand, and march forward and backward
- Stand on one foot while doing a medicine-ball chest pass
Finally, try reaction drills, measuring your time for the first two activities:
- Hold hands close together and drop a ruler in between them. Catch the ruler as quickly as you can
- Stopwatch: Push the start/stop button as quickly as you can
- Move quickly when given a direction
- Move quickly in reaction to a sound
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