Lighten up! Postural instructions affect static and dynamic balance in healthy older adults

Innovation in Aging, Volume 4, Issue 2, 2020

Cohen RG, Baer JL, Ravichandra R, Kral D, McGowan C, Cacciatore TW

Brief summary

The aim of the study was to evaluate the effects of postural instructions on balance in healthy older adults. Three different sets of instructions were tested: i) ‘Effortful’ – these were based on prevalent ideas of good posture as something that requires effort. The instructions included ‘use muscular effort to pull yourself up to your greatest height. Pull your head up, lift your chest, and tighten all the core muscles in your torso’; ii) ‘Relax’ – these instructions were based on the commonly held view that maintaining upright posture is inherently fatiguing. They included being told to ‘stand relaxed and heavy and let everything settle down’; and iii) ‘Light’ – this set of instructions was based on Alexander Technique principles and included ‘having the idea of wanting to go up, but not doing it with muscular effort and instead, letting the ground send you up through your bones, and let your head float up on top of your spine’.

The study involved 19 healthy adults aged between 60 and 80 years. They were read a standard script with the instructions and asked to practise thinking each in turn until they were confident that they could clearly distinguish between the three different sets. The participants were then asked to carry out two tasks designed to evaluate balance. Static balance was assessed by measuring sway during quiet standing. Dynamic balance was assessed using motion capture cameras and measurement of muscle activity while participants lifted one foot off the floor for a few seconds.

The study found that both the ‘Light’ and ‘Effortful’ instructions resulted in more upright postural alignment than the ‘Relax’ instructions. However, the ‘Light’ instructions led to improved static and dynamic balance, and reduced muscular effort, compared with the ‘Effortful’ instructions.

Similar findings were reported in a previous study of people with Parkinson’s. Both studies provide evidence that our thinking affects our physical state and that employing Alexander thinking skills can result in improved balance. Read the paper here.

Growing Older