Physical Power as We Age Stops Falls

Physical Power as We Age Stops Falls

A trainer friend of mine and I had dinner recently. In our mid-fifties, both of us have been focusing on power and strength as a way of maintaining our resilience. He really emphasizes it with his clients as I do with people, I give workouts to.  After we met, I did a little research and realized how much more we should be recommending for people as they age to mitigate falls.

Most of the literature around falls is oriented toward preventing a fall.  Absolutely, we should do things like removing things that might cause a fall etc..  While these things, including recommendations from the CDC to improve balance and strength are good(they suggest Thai Chi),  most of the recommendations don’t address the reality of life if you are active.

Falls are the leading cause of fatal/non-fatal injuries in over 65 adults.  1 in 4 adults reports falling in the previous year.  Anecdotally, I see an overarching fear of falling among adults, especially seniors. If they do encounter a near fall, or even an actual fall they totally seize up. That of course is the exact opposite of what you want to do in that situation.  Not being a PT or any sort of expert on geriatric fitness, a couple of gaps in how falls are approached have come to mind.  It comes from my conclusion that we all are going to lose our balance, need to recover and sometimes whether we like that or not, we are all going to fall at any age. 

My ideas on this are that you should start and continue these two things LONG before you are ever over 65 and ideally, you should be doing these all through your 40’s and especially your 50’s. That is training your fast twitch muscle fibers through power and general strength training; and spending time getting on the ground and back up including practicing falling or tumbling of one kind or another. As I grow older, no matter what I have done, I will, now and then, trip, or even fall.  Two years ago, my  90 year old dad tripped going up stairs at a restaurant carrying some tasty Indian food from the buffet.  He recovered and didn’t drop any of his curry.   But he also does both bodyweight and weighted exercises and some other kind of exercise everyday of the week. I tripped going up the stairs to my hotel just pre-pandemic and got a good laugh from some kids walking by behind me, but I recovered…barely.    My sense is simply that while we can remove causes of falls in certain instances, we can improve balance; we will ALL also be in positions where we are at risk of falling if we want to continue to be mobile and active at all.

To prevent falling, and to promote the ability to move in basic ways that require power it is necessary to train for power and as we get older. Here are a few exercises that we should be doing now, and some that you can do well into old age.

  • Hang cleans
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Sprints of any kind- hills and as you get older stationary or AirDyne or Rowing sprints
  • Plyometrics of any kind- push ups, jump squats, jump lunges
  • Ball Slams
  • Burpees- yes burpees
  • Barbell front squat
  • Deadlift
  • Agility drills
  • Single arm suitcase carries
  • Animal movements of any kind

The second thing is that we should all practice getting down and up, tumbling, and frankly rolling or falling.  There is an awesome video of a 95 year old gentlemen that teaches falling to seniors. The Dutch have also begun teaching seniors to fall.   Getting down on the floor and back up alone can help you learn that going to the ground is not something to be afraid of.  Again, as people in our 40s and 50’s, now is the time to prepare and as we get older, we can still work going to the ground with practice such as yoga and on turning, bending, and rolling to the ground, or summersaults or relaxing as we fall in safe situations. 

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