Take a deep breath. This is a touchy one.
Talking falls is uncomfortable but taking a fall has a far steeper consequence. Falls contribute to a rapid health decline in people over 65 and older and 2/3 of people who fall once, will fall again within 6 months. I’m not here to scare you with statistics though. Quite the contrary, I want to tell you that falling is not a normal part of aging and there are simple things you can do to prevent falls (and improve your health at the same time).
Why do people fall?
Did you know that every step you take is a tiny fall? Every time you walk, jog or run you are actively falling? The difference between falling to move from here to there and falling to injury has everything to do with your body’s your sensory systems, or as I like to sum it up, your compass. The visual, vestibular and proprioceptive systems are what allow you to move through the world with coordination. When one, two or all three systems have degraded, your risk of falling becomes so high, it’s almost unavoidable. For someone with brittle bones, poor strength and a sedentary lifestyle, a fall is usually the beginning of the end. The great news is, there are simple exercises to regenerate all three systems. Rather than trading in your beautiful rugs for industrial non-slip rubber floors or only walking on hard, flat surfaces read on to learn how to regenerate your senses. Let’s start with vision…
The Visual System
If you can’t see where you’re going, how can you know where its safe to traverse? Vision plays a crucial role in telling your brain where you are, which direction your facing and most importantly, what’s around you that could be hazardous. If you’ve ever walked blindfolded or a pitch black room, you know that seeing obstacles is important for not tripping over them. Luckily, improving vision is accessible to all. Your eyes are controlled by muscles that can be strengthened to improve acuity, distance, speed of sight and eye fatigue. On top of that, I personally recommend befriending a behavioral optometrist. I suggest behavioral optometry because they look at more than your Snellen chart acuity, they may give you a better idea of how your vision is actually working towards comprehending your environment, or not!
The Vestibular System
This one may be unfamiliar but is number one in fall prevention. In short, your inner ears are filled with level-like structures that when moved, tell your brain if your moving and on what plane. Does swinging, spinning, stopping quickly, being on a boat or going upside down make you dizzy? If yes, that is a reliable sign that you vestibular system may need a tune up. When the vestibular system isn’t functioning well, sometimes we don’t even know we’re falling… until it’s too late! Just like vision, the vestibular system can be restored back to health. Simple head movements in coordination with the eyes is your best defense against falls because it re-calibrates how your vision and vestibular system work together.
The Proprioceptive System
Another unfamiliar, yet pivotal piece of balance is your sense of spatial awareness and ability to move in space. As it relates to fall prevention, the proprioceptive health of your feet will save you from a more serious tumble. Bear with me and hear me out… Your shoes are deafening your feet. Each time you put your foot in a shoe that is fitted, comfortable, and feels the same as it did a year ago, your brain hits snooze on relying on the feet to observe obstacles. If you wore an oven mitt, could you tell the difference between squeezing a bar and a cactus? Not until it’s too late! Your feet should work the same way. Carpet, tile, rugs, curbs, slopes, grass, slick pavement, rocks, sidewalk cracks, and the unfortunate but inevitable thumb tack should all be easily identified by your feet. Keeping up your sole investigative skills maintains not only your ability to observe such obstacles, but also trains your reactions to them. Keen senses lead to quicker reaction times and that means you are more able to catch yourself in the event of a trip or fall.
Bringing It All Together
Your sensory systems are like a compass for moving you through the world. They tell the brain where you are, which direction you’re facing, if you’re upright, what’s around you, what’s beneath you and anything else that helps paint the present picture. Due to lack of movement, confines of shoes and degradation of vision, falls become almost inevitable. In truth, many people don’t even know they are falling until they are halfway down. The good news is, just like you would train a muscle to get stronger, you can train all of these systems to keep you agile and coordinated. That next step is to start moving well. Connect with Smart Move Wellness today for a free 15 minute consultation on fall prevention or check out my premium training services designed for your unique lifestyle.