gms | German Medical Science

Physical activity and successful aging
10th International EGREPA Conference

European Group for Research into Elderly and Physical Activity

14.09. - 16.09.2006 in Köln

Smart balance performance facilitates supra-postural activity

Meeting Abstract

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  • corresponding author V. Lippens - University of Oldenburg, Germany
  • V. Nagel - University of Hamburg, Germany

Physical activity and successful aging. Xth International EGREPA Conference. Cologne, 14.-16.09.2006. Düsseldorf, Köln: German Medical Science; 2006. Doc06pasa094

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Veröffentlicht: 18. Dezember 2006

© 2006 Lippens et al.
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Dexterous postural control is neither the goal of conscious actions nor the result of unknown behavior. It might be conceptualized in terms of affordance exploitation (Stoffregen, 2004). The type of control that is optimal depends upon specific constraints of the person, task and environment (Newell, 1996; cf., Nitsch, 1982). Human postural control is not an end in itself. It is integrated within a functional context of various supra-postural goals (cf., Riccio, Stoffregen, 1988). In our opinion, postural control is not autonomous but is part of a broader action-perception system (cf., Mitra, 2004, 28f.; Bootsma, 1998, 58: information-movement coupling!!). We report an experiment in which we examined the influence of supra-postural tasks on postural control in elderly adults.


Elderly adults (N=62; age > 60) took part in a study of different interventions to improve their general motor performance. They underwent two trials in the pre- and post-measurement. We used a motion analysis system with optic-electronic markers (AS 200 ® LUKOtronic) to record the three-dimensional sway of head and hip (Lippens, Nagel, 2006). In the first trial the participants were asked to maintain a one-leg stance on normal ground as a baseline. In the second trial they executed an additional, supra-postural task, searching for and counting symbols within a block of text on a poster (distance: 60 cm). The duration of each trial was 45 seconds. The sway of hip and head was measured by the motion analysis system (100 Hz). We evaluated body sway by calculating the deviation of position of body segments (SDx, y, z [mm]).


A MANOVA (3x2) revealed a significant main effect of task (F(1,61): 7.421; p<.008). There were also effects of body segment (head vs. hip) (F(1,61): 160.656; p<.000) and of sway direction (x, y, z) (F(2,122): 60.208; p<.000) as well. Sway in y-direction of the head (12.56 vs. 18.04 [mm]) and the hip (3.93 vs. 8.35 [mm]) was generally smaller during the search task than in the baseline condition.


Smart balance performance refers to the concept of functional integration (cf., Oullier et al., 2004). In searching for target letters, sway in the med.-lat. direction may have decreased to support the supra-postural task (cf., Smart et al., 2004). These results are in accordance with previous studies of supra-postural tasks (e.g., visual oriented: Stoffregen et al., 1999, 2000; tactile oriented: e.g., Holden et al., 1987, Riley et al., 1999; precise oriented: Balasubramaniam et al., 2000) and of balance performance in the elderly (Lippens, Nagel, 2004; Stoffregen et al., 2006). In our study, reduced body sway appears to have afforded more optimal visual search: Dexterous balancing was functional integrated to facilitate supra-postural task while standing.