What to look for in a group exercise class or personal trainer if you have dizziness issues
If exercise were a medicine, everyone would be prescribed it. This is even more true for people with conditions that cause vertigo, dizziness and/or balance issues. An exercise routine can help you better manage stress and anxiety (1), reduces the risk of dizzy episodes in certain disorders, and can help you recover from episodes when you have them (2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Also, practicing good movement and becoming stronger can improve your general quality of life (8). Finally, exercise plays an important role in helping you manage other health conditions, like diabetes, that could be contributing to your symptoms (7). Getting started at the gym can be intimidating for anyone, but becoming more active after experiencing dizziness or vertigo can be extra challenging. Having the support of a personal training or group exercise class can provide support to someone with a vestibular disorder that is hoping to increase their activity levels.
General guidelines on finding a personal trainer who can help you
If it is within your budget to do so, it is highly recommended that you work with a personal trainer if you are getting back to exercise after experiencing dizziness or vertigo. A trainer will help you learn to work with or overcome movement difficulties you may have in order to maximize the many benefits of exercise.
Exercise can help you manage your symptoms and help you get back to the activities you love, but it could also lead to worsening of your episodes or even falls if you are not being trained by someone who understands your condition. Therefore, consider hiring a trainer with a science or medical background (some examples: exercise physiologists, athletic trainers, strength coaches) and/or experience and education in vestibular therapy. Another option is to find a physical therapist who can work with you to develop an exercise program that you can then continue to work on with a personal trainer.
Trainers with higher levels of expertise are often found at sports performance facilities, private training facilities, and private physical therapy practices. Keep in mind that personal training is an unregulated profession in many countries, including the United States, and trainers’ expertise and education vary enormously.
General guidelines for group exercise
Before choosing a group exercise class, consider your triggers. If you know that certain movements trigger your symptoms, you should build confidence in doing those movements prior to doing them in a group environment. Working with a personal trainer or vestibular therapist on specific movements you would like to be able to do in an exercise class will keep you safe and help you return to the activities you enjoy. Other people find that certain environmental factors (lights, crowds, loud music) can trigger symptoms. Finally, some people with difficulties balancing may want to choose classes where they can hold onto a wall if needed, or where there is not a lot of equipment on the floor that could lead to trips and falls. In short, visit the facility and class to make sure you feel comfortable with the environment!
Here are some other qualities to look for:
Do what you enjoy
Above all, movement of any kind can help you feel better and become healthier, so pick an exercise that you enjoy and can do consistently. Some of the recommendations in this article may help you consider your options if you choose to try group exercise, but most importantly, just move. Exercise is one of the best investments you can make in your health and could be very helpful in managing your symptoms and quality of life.
Choose classes that are small
Many gyms offer semi-private training classes with fewer than 10 participants. You should be in an environment where you can monitor how you feel, ensure you can modify the workout as needed, and get personal support from your instructor. A large, fast-paced boot camp with 20 or more participants, for example, would not be an ideal group exercise class. Ideally, find an environment where people with different levels of ability are able to safely exercise together. A good group exercise class will be set up in a way in which the instructor is able to work with you one-on-one at least some of the time.
For better quality of life, practice functional movement
Keeping in mind any movement limitations you have not addressed yet with a personal trainer or therapist, your exercise class should also challenge you to move in ways that you move in your daily life. For example, spinning or rowing classes are less “functional” because you’re bent over, seated, and facing forward the entire time- though those might be a good choice to get started if you are not yet able to turn your head quickly and safely.
The best classes for your longer-term quality of life are ones in which you’re moving side to side, turning, picking things up, putting things down, stepping over obstacles, and even getting up off the floor. Consider classes that use free weights and small implements like sand bags, medicine balls, and kettlebells, and skip the ones that rely on machines like treadmills, bikes, and seated weight machines. You will often be able to find small classes like these at local, private training facilities.
All this to say, though, that any exercise will help you increase your general conditioning and fitness, especially if that has declined with illness or movement limitations. If functional movement is not an option for you, know that you’re doing wonderful things for your body and mental health with any exercise that you can do safely and consistently.
Make sure to strength train
While cardiovascular exercise is important and can help reduce attacks for individuals with certain conditions like migraines (3), being stronger carries over more into helping you manage balance issues and avoid falls (9, 10, 11, 12). Strength training, especially exercises performed with just your bodyweight, dumbbells or other free weights (rather than machines), helps train your body to respond to situations in your everyday life. That said, strength training of any kind offers a huge number of benefits, ranging from decreasing fall risk, managing anxiety related to your symptoms, helping in weight control, and slowing age-related declines in bone and muscle mass. Another benefit if you’re just starting back to exercise is that strength training can be easily modified up or down in intensity based on your symptoms, which is harder to do in an aerobic/cardio class.
Author: Yonit Arthur, AuD, AIB-VR/CON, CFSC-2
Dr. Yonit Arthur, Au.D. is an audiologist and strength coach who helps people of all ages and abilities become healthy, fit and steady. She lives in the Orlando, Florida area with her husband and two daughters.