Falls result in over 3 million injuries in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations. ~ The National council on aging
In fact, falls are the second leading cause of accidental deaths worldwide.
Preventing falls is a big concern for all of us.
If not you personally, you probably know a family member or friend whose life has been changed because of a fall.
The question of how best to prevent such accidents and increase resilience, so that falls aren’t so devastating needs to be answered.
Fortunately, a good movement program can help you improve the areas that are most important to your balance so that you can decrease your chance of falls.
THE BASICS ARE THE PLACE TO START –
The first place to start is to make sure your physical/fitness attributes are covered.
Starting with mobility, your ability to move through complete ranges of motion is critical for all movements. When it comes to falls, lower body range and neck/spine range should take priority. Make sure you’re stretching your neck, hips, knees, and ankles on a regular basis.
Lower-body strength, in all the joints and all the different motions, is critical here. Move your body weight in a variety of squat and lunge positions. Neck and spine strength are essential here as well. Your ability to bring your body back to the correct position and posture relies heavily on your muscle strength.
When it comes to endurance, all the strength in the world isn’t going to help if you get tired. Feeling tired, gasping for air, or fighting fatigue will quickly diminish any sense of control that you have with your movements. Your ability to use your senses and coordinate the complex gets worse the more tired you get.
Making sure you have a good base of training in these areas will help you get started in fall and injury prevention.
Let’s move onto more of the specifics of balance training.
THE BIG 3 FOR BALANCE AND FALL PREVENTION
There are three mechanism or systems that your brain and body uses to keep you balanced and upright.
The following three systems make up our body’s built-in GPS system. They work individually but also together to help us move through the world safely. Keep in mind there is a reflexive level to these systems, they are working below the radar often times very quickly in an effort to keep us safe.
The visual system may be the top dog when it comes to keeping you upright and balanced. We use our eyes to help us navigate through the world. Vision is a little different than eyesight, It’s how well the brain takes what you see and uses the information to allow for accurate and precise movement.
Also known as the inner ear, the Vestibular system, is the second part to your body’s natural balance and movement . It helps us see while moving and provides our brain the information it needs to know that your head is level even when you’re twisting or bending forward. It works all the time and has an impact on your entire body as it plays a big role in posture, position and performance.
This Is the concept of knowing where your body is in space when you’re not looking at it. Proprioception allows us to move in complex patterns so that we can do our daily and recreational activities confidently and gracefully. It may seem like it’s not as important as vision or vestibular but its comparable in how the body needs it to feel safe while moving.
EXERCISES THAT HELP YOU STAY BALANCED AND SAFE –
The following exercise ideas are a great start to working on the 3 main parts of your GPS system.
VISION – Gaze and then Follow.
One of the most complex eye exercises you can do is gaze fixation. Pick a specific point of detail (on a picture or something outside the window) and keep your focus on that tiny detail for 30 seconds.
The second type of exercise is to follow an object moving through the air in front of you. Try holding a pencil at arms length and make a big circle that your eyes have to follow. Go both directions and give it a try 5 times each way.
VESTIBULAR – Head turns.
Your inner GPS system can be trained by doing neck stretches. Try to rotate (turn) your head to both sides. Then tilt your head (bring your ear to your shoulder). Finish with looking up and down. A couple of key points, try these sitting down first to make sure they won’t cause any dizziness. Let your eyes move along with your head. You can increase the speed of the head turns to increase difficulty. Breathe and relax with each movement.
PROPRIOCEPTION – Feet together and Eyes closed –
Practicing where you are in space can be a challenge. Make sure you are standing by a wall or a sturdy chair when trying these exercises. Safety first. Try keeping your chin level and bring your standing stance together so that you are standing with your feet side by side. Close your eyes and balance. Remember, that at any time you can open your eyes and step out instead of falling. This exercise will help your body understand its position and be able to correct it by returning to a more vertical straight up position.
There are a lot of working parts when it comes to creating an effective fall and injury prevention program.
It’s my hope that this can help you understand how the body works and how using these systems with these exercises can help you stay safe and healthy.