aging · fitness · injury · nutrition

Embracing my growing strength

Red and white printed blanket covering a personBy MarthaFitat55

I’m not a big fan of our winter season. The weather is often horrible, spring seems like it will never arrive, and the multiple layers required to survive the cold make going to the gym a chore.

When the sky is blue, and the snow is soft and fluffy, I can work up the enthusiasm to enjoy a walk or a snowshoe. When it is wet and miserable with sleety snow, I want to curl up under my quilt and not surface until May.

Part of my resistance to winter exercise comes from my fear of falling. I have actually fallen several times, with my first reliable memory being a fall at 14 that resulted in a wicked headache.

I have tumbled over icy stairs (that one within earshot of my mother who heard me use language suitable for blistering paint) and I have skidded across parking lots.

I have also fallen indoors, and while I have been fortunate enough not to experience lasting ill effects, as I grow older, my fear of falling has grown exponentially.

I often ask people if they remember the rubber boots many of us wore as kids, and if they specifically recall how stiff and unyielding the rubber would get as we walked to and from school in January and February. Over time the rubber would crack and the wet would seep in.

That’s how I feel my muscles go in the winter cold: hard, inflexible, and yet ready to shatter at the slightest pressure.

Last year, three of my friends and one of my relatives were laid up with broken bones, all women. Two experienced the breaks as a result of slips and falls on icy sidewalks, thus adding to my fear and resistance.

I shouldn’t be surprised: after all, women are four times more likely to have osteoporosis, and one in five is likely to experience a fracture after age 40. The fact is my fear of falling need not be limited to the winter season, given the data.

Since hiding under a quilt is not really an option I can indulge in, I have looked for ways to reduce my risk of falls. I make sure I have good shoes, grippy sneakers, and sturdy boots. I have learned to walk like a penguin, with my feet pointed out, when going up or down hills and across icy surfaces.

I found some really useful tips here on the BC’s government’s health website. One tip which really stood out for me was eating foods high in calcium and Vitamin D. I had found increasing my fish intake was helping with my arthritis, so I wasn’t too surprised that nutrition could help. I had also long known about the calcium connection for bone health, but was not aware of the importance Vitamin D brings to muscle strength.

Last month, I had reason to be grateful for working on my fitness and nutrition. I had noticed increasing tightness and soreness around the hip joint post training and my trainer had noticed some oddities in my form during a subsequent squat session.

I decided to get checked as I was worried that something new was about to be added to the injury roster. I was somewhat startled to learn that it was the same hip problem. When I asked why the symptoms were different, my physiotherapist said my muscle strength had improved significantly over the past year to compensate for my hip moving out of alignment.

When I thought about the other times my hip joint has shifted, I realized several things. First, the time between injury and the onset of discomfort and pain was usually quite short. This time, it was a little over three weeks before things got really sore. Second, the recovery time post alignment was often quite long, with the pain and stiffness taking as much as three to five weeks to disappear. This time, I was really only uncomfortable for about 48 to 72 hours.

So what has this got to do with my fear of falling? I’m still cautious, but now I have developed my core strength so I am strong enough to reduce the impact. I also know my improved nutrition has helped my muscles recover faster from training, and this is also helpful in dealing with stress and injury.

What this means long term, I am not sure yet. For now, I am happy to continue with the work I am doing with the knowledge that I have made a difference in reducing the effects of injury and speeding up recovery.

— Martha is a writer living in St. John’s documenting a continuing journey of making fitness and work-life balance part of her everyday lifestyle.

aging · Aikido

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.