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Do You Fear Falling as You Age?

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA

TheraFit shoes, flying feetTurns 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.

IDEA Personal Training WestKymberly: 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:

Alexandra negotiates a hill without fallingOne: 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

Kneeling Core and Abs Exercise Video

Obliques Exercise Safe for Lower Back  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.Kymbelry fallen and getting up

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.

Don't Fall!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!

Subscribe to our YouTube channel to see short videos that will improve your fitness. Have you subscribed yet to our blog? Please also follow us on google++Alexandra and +Kymberly, on Twitter: AlexandraFunFit and KymberlyFunFit and Instagram: KymberlyFunFit and AlexandraFunFit. Or click now on the icons above.


About Fun and Fit

Get practical exercise advice, your fitness questions answered, and cutting edge health edu-tainment that is accessible and doable from long time fitness experts, Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA. We have taught on land, sea, and airwaves for 3 decades on 4 continents. From writing to speaking, emceeing to hosting a radio show, reviewing products to teaching classes, we believe that little steps turn into big paths. Move a little more than the day before. FitFluential Ambassadors and award-winners both online and off.

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20 Responses to Do You Fear Falling as You Age?

  1. Kim May 14, 2013 at 5:10 am #

    I can’t wait to try the rotating abs move – looks super challenging!!
    I started falling long before I reached middle age – I’ve never been very graceful!! Now, I need all the help I can get!!
    Kim recently posted..My Kind of Day!!My Profile

    • Fun and Fit May 14, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

      Do you know why you started falling so young? Were you bumping into things? Getting bumped? Could be solvable depending on what’s causing the falls. Let us know what you think of the abs move!
      Fun and Fit recently posted..What’s Beautiful? Health at Any AgeMy Profile

  2. John Poole May 14, 2013 at 6:35 am #

    Yeah, this is old critical stuff — both diminishing balance as one ages, plus the damage a fall can bring. My mom slipped and fell in her house in 2005, and was never quite the same ever since. She was a committed “furniture walker” at the time (meaning leaning and reaching out to grab furniture to navigate her house, rather than admit it’s time for a walker). My cousin, who is now turning 70, I noticed now is also taking “delicate steps” and reaching out for things.

    I’ve noticed myself becoming more and careful, as well, and can feel my own sense of balance becoming affected in small ways. I’m extra careful going up on ladders, and walking on high surfaces, and now always keep “one hand for what I’m doing, and one hand for the ladder” as they say. Funny thing is I can still ski well, and I think it’s because the balancing you need to do in skiing is very active and deliberate. It’s that incidental balancing that seems to get tentative with age.

    ~ John

  3. Kim May 14, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    Totally hear you on what I choose to call risk management strategies. Old injuries that were of sufficient magnitude as to leave some form of permanent change, create a kind of program modification in what I am willing to engage in. Right knee and skiing is first among those at the moment. The problem I see in myself is the risk management is often an overkill in behavioral change. I see this in myself and wonder how to modify this over-application of caution if you will. A long life tends to build these cautions up one on top of the other to the point that large portions of the live, laugh… etc get taken out of the mix. An annoying trend line that would seem to only be dealt with by my observing that there are others willing to ignore this at a level that risks their literal existence. Can’t say I endorse that, but in an odd way their over-willingness to jump off of Half Dome allows me to contemplate falling out of the tree as an acceptable risk.

    • Fun and Fit May 14, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

      Yup “risk management strategies” it is! though maybe not any tree drops for you, ok? Knowing what is fear vs wisdom when deciding what to do/ not do is a trick, eh? Part of the equation is the recovery from a fall. The more we use the strategies outlined in the post (courtesy of K. Schlieter) and stay active, the better we rebound if we do fall. Both Alexandra and I have had knee surgeries that shrink our world – that is, prevent us from doing things we once enjoyed doing. We are now talking a combination of joint issues/ injuries/ and fear of falling. Related, but approached differently. Meet you at the bottom of the slopes Kim! In the lodge!
      Fun and Fit recently posted..How to Walk a Half Marathon After Knee SurgeryMy Profile

  4. GiGi Eats Celebrities May 14, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    Actually yes, I do have a fear of falling! The last thing I want to do is hurt myself so badly, that I cannot walk, or use a limb or two! I stopped snowboarding professionally because of this!
    GiGi Eats Celebrities recently posted..The Framazing Award Goes To…My Profile

    • Fun and Fit May 14, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

      Wow! And you are so young! Is your fear of falling specific to high level snowboarding solely or overall?
      Fun and Fit recently posted..Midlife Fitness and Health Lessons from My DogMy Profile

    • Fun and Fit May 14, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

      What a sweet pea you are to think of your grandmother. Have her try the “Obliques Safe for Lower Back” move. We use this one in the classes we teach to Older Adults (60s-late 80s). They are active seniors, so if your grandmother is frail she will not like getting up and down off the floor. However, it is important for her to retain that ability as well. Keep your eye on our posts as we are going to be offering a series of abs, core, and posture videos soon specifically for older adults. For now, have your grandmother sit in a chair, bottom towards the front half (not all the way against the back of the chair) and try lifting a leg off the ground, alternating. If she can do that, have her try to lift both feet at once – not high, just off the ground. Once she can do that, have her alternate knee lift to opposite elbow. She needs to lift from her core, not from her hip flexors. Then give her a kiss. She’ll love exercising then!
      Fun and Fit recently posted..What’s Beautiful? Health at Any AgeMy Profile

  5. Clare May 14, 2013 at 10:13 am #

    I haven’t really been afraid of falling, not until my grandmother stated to be very “wobbly” so to speak. These moves look great for someone in their 30s or so, but is it safe for a 70 year old woman to try?
    Clare recently posted..Celebrity Secrets: Star Trek into Darkness Star Zoe Saldna Sheds Some Light On Her Own Beauty BasicsMy Profile

  6. Jody - Fit at 55 May 14, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

    LOVE this post & advice & exercises! The first 2 were knew tome so adding those into my week! :) I love the 2 of you with the right & wrong! :)

    YES, critical info! I don’t have fear of falling BUT I do know that with age, many older adults do fall & break bones & hips & often the hospital stay for this may have them catching other stuff & they do not always make it out of the hospital!

    I have to be careful with plyo stuff due to my feet but I do try to do them here & there. Weights – as you know – I love!
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted..Gratitude Monday, Mom’s Day & SarahMy Profile

    • AlexandraFunFit May 15, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

      Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of plyo moves either. But I do them! And I do a lot of strength & balance work with my older adult students so that they won’t be a statistic.
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..What’s Beautiful? Health at Any AgeMy Profile

  7. Joan Stommen May 15, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    Great article and website! I first became aware of some of these strategies when my daughter had twins! Carrying babies up and down stairs; around the house; and as toddlers keeping them corraled/chasing etc! One cannot wear flip flops doing this! I 69 now and they are five! But I’m careful whenever walking on stange terrain, parking lots, curbs. Not really afraid…..but I can tell I’m more agile and vigilant! Zumba and yoga helps me a great deal; need to add the weight training back in! I think awareness is the key (and and instinctive reaction plan like you’ve mentioned) around pets, in the classroom and crowds.
    Joan gramcrackercrumbs

  8. Mazy Holiday May 16, 2013 at 7:11 am #

    Falling is a huge concern for me. I think most people still don’t know falls are #1 cause on injury related death. HoliVision has created the first iPad mobile app with two falls prevention exercise programs. Free to download. Also, if you don’t have an iPad, you can get a DVD on Amazon. It’s time we educate and do something about this epidemic of falls.
    Mazy Holiday recently posted..Mobile industry will be seeing a lot more enforcement.My Profile

  9. Calla Gold May 20, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    Falling can be nasty, especially as we age. Thanks for sharing some great ways to work on our balance and help prevent falls. Fear is easily mastered when we’re better equipped to stay on our feet.

  10. Sheryl August 20, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

    Great post. As someone who has fallen a couple of times and gotten pretty bad injuries, it resonates deeply with me. (Unfortunately!)
    Sheryl recently posted..It’s a Foxcroft Celebration!My Profile


  1. IDEA PTI: Exercise, Food, Weight Loss & Menopause | Fun and Fit: with Fitness Pros & Identical Twins, Alexandra and Kymberly - May 16, 2013

    […] wrote a post about falling – fears and injuries – from a full-day session she attended, which has some very helpful information. * […]

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