Ice, age, and the fear of falling

fall down, get up Driving home from work today, en route to CrossFit actually, I listened to an interesting interview with a chiropractor about icy roads and sidewalks and the fear of falling. I was prepared for the usual winter safety spiel. Take short steps, wear yak trax, etc.

But no, his concern  was quite a bit different. His claim was that fear of falling was as dangerous as the ice itself. What was his worry? First, that if you’re scared of falling, when you do fall you stiffen up and land thunk on the ground. He advocated instead learning to fall and spending some time outside practicing falling. Second, fear of falling keeps many people inside and less mobile and sadly more likely to fall when they do encounter ice. Indeed, fear of falling in seniors leads to a downward spiral of more inactivity, immobility, and more falls. See this article in Psychology Today.

This makes perfect sense to me. In Aikido we practice falling a lot. The most common practical use of Aikdio is not self-defense, it’s rolling out of a fall. I’ve been drafting a post about Aikido and the things its taught me. How to fall is certainly one of them. I’ve slipped on the ice a few times since taking Aikido and each time I’ve executed an Aikido break fall. We do so many in class that it’s now second nature.

Here’s what one dojo says about falling:

Besides its beautiful and dynamic techniques, Aikido is known for its beautiful rolls, falls and dramatic high falls and break falls. Learning how to fall safely is one of the first valuable skills you will be taught in any of our Aikido Dojos. Safety is paramount and we teach all types of falls using safe low impact methods. We actually don’t look at it as “falling” but as “recovery”. Of course, learning how to fall safely is an extremely valuable skill—at any age and especially as we age.

I’m a member of long established feminist book group. I think it’s 30 years old and lots of the founding members are still active. We’re called “The Hags.” Of course. I’m the youngest book group member. And I worry about the Hags and falls. I worry about my mother too. I wish I could send every older person I know to Aikido so they could learn how to fall!

Learning to fall and working to maintain bone strength are important fitness and safety habits for everyone, but especially for women after menopause.

So, yes, avoid the ice if you can. But also, learn to fall. I can guarantee it’s injury prevention training that you’ll use. Here’s two tutorials, one a general martial arts intro to falling and the other specific to Aikido.

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