Do You Fear Falling as You Age?
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
Turns out that fear of falling starts to haunt us as we hit middle age. Either directly or out of concern for our aging parents, we start seeing more risk of hitting the ground and adjust our lives accordingly. Unfortunately “adjust” usually means shrink our world. We baby boomers (and our parents) stop doing things we once enjoyed as we fear injury. Have you discontinued an activity you once considered fun and now look at as risky?
Kymberly: In our family, we no longer snowboard after my husband’s fall led to shoulder surgery and my spill hurt my back.
Alexandra: I haven’t exactly fallen, but I did a major wipeout playing soccer back in 1998. After a number of knee surgeries, I no longer play soccer.
Fortunately we baby boomers can take action to prevent falls and bolster our balance so we age as actively and confidently as possible. Let’s arm (and leg) ourselves with a few insights.
Kymberly: Recently Alexandra and I attended and spoke at the IDEA Personal Training Institute West conference. One of my favorite presentations (besides our own, of course!) was “Improving Balance and Mobility Skills.” This 6-hour session was offered by Karen Schlieter, MBA, MS whose expertise is in gerokinesiology, a new and specialized area of study that focuses on physical activity and aging. Some of her key points included the following:
One: Did you know that one-third of older adults fall each year? Women tend to break their forearms and wrists; men tend to hit their heads and suffer traumatic brain injury. Hold it right there! That is not the future we baby boomers envision, is it?!
We need to work on our balance by controlling our center of mass, also known as our core. The stronger and more respondent our core is, the more we are able to shift our center of gravity safely, quickly, and comfortably. Midlife and older is no time to ignore the core! So the first order of business is to strengthen our core.
Alexandra: Take advantage of the core exercises we present in our YouTube videos. We offer many, all under two minutes. You’ll find three links here so you can get to work right away!
Rotating Abs/ Core Move Video
Two: When something unexpected threatens to up-end us, we try to maintain balance using several strategies. In order of use, they are:
Ankle strategy: the first place to adjust in order to stay upright is at the ankle joint. Most people send their spine or shoulders into tilt and end up on the ground as a result. Start implementing a small amount of sway or bend at the ankle as a postural, or balance strategy. For example, if you are out walking your energetic dog, who then bangs into your legs at full run, bend at the ankle and knees, not the spine, to protect yourself from going down.
Hip strategy: the bigger muscles around our pelvis help keep our center of gravity actually centered. If an ankle bend is not enough to keep us from a fall, we depend on the larger muscles that surround our hips. Again, keep the spine long and strength train the hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, hip extensors, and abs so they can support with extra oomph when balance surprises come along.
Step out strategy: The final strategy to kick into fall-prevention gear is to step forward, backward, or laterally. If you’ve ever done the panic shuffle when tripped, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Taking a quick salvation step or many depends on our senses, overall strength, and ability to scale our movement to our environment. While we can’t do much to train our eyesight or hearing, for instance, we can be proactive on the latter two functions.
Three: The last big insight we want to share from Karen’s session is that we lose power ahead of strength. For reducing falls, we have to have power. To get back up quickly after a fall we need power. Yes, resistance training is important (twice a week seems to be the sweet spot between reaping benefits and being time/ life/ schedule efficient). However, power training tends to go by the wayside once we say good-bye to our 40s.
A quick definition of the difference between power and strength is that power has a speed and often an explosive element to it. Strength training is generally slow and controlled applied force. Bottom line — add some kind of jump to your life. Jump rope, perform squat jumps, do switch lunges, work in a few box jump ups.
Alexandra: I’ll add a few final comments. Fear of falling can actually contribute to a fall. Even if you haven’t fallen in the past, if you have a fear of falling, you are at more risk. As well, if you find yourself shuffling, you’ll want to work on lengthening your stride and picking up your feet, as a shuffling gait can lead to instability and decreased mobility.
Whether it’s Summer, Winter, Spring or Fall, be in season with a healthy, functional body that does Fall, but doesn’t fall!
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