Massage Therapist Establishes Award-Winning Healthy Aging Program, MASSAGE MagazineThe facts are simple: For elderly people, preventing falls means preventing disaster. At the same time, staying mentally sharp is of paramount importance for maintaining a high quality of life.

“Both of these goals are achievable,” says Karen Peterson, executive director of Giving Back, a 501c3 non-profit agency, and the founder of the highly acclaimed Move With Balance healthy aging program. Her new illustrated book, Move With Balance: Healthy Aging Activities for Brain and Body, offers dozens of movements (not exercises) that anyone, even the frailest elder, can do, plus links to 60 online demonstration videos.

Peterson explains that Move With Balance is not a workout program in the usual sense with muscle-strengthening and limbering exercises as the primary goal. Instead, the activities combine coordinated movement with cognitive skills. For example, while elders move, they also read, recognize shapes or recite a poem.

The underlying principle is to challenge the brain and body simultaneously with a sensory-motor activity, repeat it until the challenge becomes easier or even automatic, then up the stakes by repeating the activity at a higher level.

Developed over many years, these activities improve balance, sensory integration, spatial awareness, integration of the two hemispheres of the brain, brain timing and sequencing, reaction time, binocular teaming and proprioception. Indeed, an independent evaluation shows a 38-percent reduction in falls for the treatment group using the Move With Balance program. Other benefits include increased coordination, sharper cognitive skills, better vision and enhanced self-confidence and joy in the aging years.

Peterson comments, “Move With Balance is user-friendly and fun. It improves balance and enhances cognitive function with a rich and adaptable set of activities, and independent evaluations reveal that these activities are dramatically effective.”

“I met Karen Peterson 25 years ago when she introduced me to her expertise in movement and perception. We worked together to help alleviate vision and balance issues. Her present concern is enhancing balance and thereby preventing falls. This program is based on cutting-edge science. She uses modified techniques that Olympic athletes employ with good success. I wholeheartedly endorse her work to make seniors safer and to help them lead more active and productive lives,” says Edvin Manniko, O.D., behavioral optometrist

Peterson has received many awards, from the 2012 “Outstanding Achievement Award in Recognition of Success and Accomplishments” from the Educational Kinesiology Conference to the 2012 MindAlert Award from the American Society on Aging in collaboration with MetLife Foundation for programs designed to enhance mental fitness for the general population of older adults.

Group leaders, caregivers or individuals who purchase Move With Balance: Healthy Aging for Brain and Body receive support from an interactive website that includes the videos and other instructional elements.

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About the author

Karen Peterson is the executive director of Giving Back and the founder of the Move With Balance healthy aging program. She has a combined 40 years of teaching experience in adult education programs, colleges and senior centers. In 2000, she created Giving Back, a nonprofit organization with two intergenerational mentoring programs: elders mentoring children and mobile elders mentoring frail elders. An entrepreneur who has started three businesses, all of them still ongoing, she is also the co-founder of the Learning Hui, a learning center on Maui, where she worked with students to obtain optimal learning. For three years, she also worked individually with highly at-risk teens in a residential setting. She is a licensed brain gym instructor, a certified educational kinesiologist, a certified natural vision improvement instructor, a certified touch for health instructor and a certified massage therapist.