Staying upright/The Importance of Learning to fall

Staying upright/The Importance of Learning to fall

Neil Steinberg of the Sun-times, he being the thoughtful one, wrote a recent piece in the Readers Digest with his 82-year-old mother in mind. I'm not there yet but after being down here in Florida for almost 3 years I thought some of my senior friends would be interested. I also had some personal things to pass on. Neal points out one of the world's greatest overlooked dangers are falls. We humans fear terrorist attacks, shark bites, mass murderers, becoming victims of a violent crime, and many more harmful and deadly ways our lives can be suddenly changed forever. Yet each year an estimated 646,000 people die each year world wide after falling according to a Mosaic Science study. Falls are the second leading cause of death by injury after car accidents. In the United States  falls caused more than 33,000 fatalities in 2015.

According to the Centers for Disease Control more patients go to the emergency rooms in the United States after falling then for any other form of injury, including auto accidents, and most significant, in Chicago, gun shot victims. Certainly we elderly folks with our fragile bones and balance problems, need to be extra careful, but surprisingly we are not the ones most at risk. In a study published last year by PLOS ONE nearly 18% of men ages 18 to 44 had reported a fall related injury in the prior three months, more than double the percentage of men 65 years or older.

A fall can happen everywhere and they often do. Falls from great heights are rare, but the real danger is the low level interior settings of our everyday life -- supermarket aisles,  shower stalls, stairways. I recently had a friend who wore his socks while descending a wooden stairway in a second floor townhouse without holding the railing, causing a serious hip injury requiring months of recuperation. One can go from being in robust health to a grave disability in less then one  second. Medical professionals and scientists are starting to encourage more and more people of all ages to learn how to fall to minimize injury and to treat falling not only as an unexpected danger but as an inevitability to be prepared for.


Training without question can, and often is a determining factor in the outcome of a fall. Back in the 60's while in the Far East, the Marine Corps sent their Reconnaissance FMF warriors, (the precursor to the Navy Seals)  to a Dojo in Yokohama to learn under the great Kodokan Sensei, Hanabusa.   Hanabusa San as he became known to us, was a Martial Arts expert in Judo (the way of gentleness).   It is a form of self-defense created from traditional Japanese Martial Arts. Kodokan is the most established form. The very first day in his Dojo was when I became aware of the vital importance of learning to fall.

His entire beginning techniques were instructing us to learn how to fall. Hour after hour before we ever learned any sort of self-defense protection from another person, we toiled hour after hour by being slammed or thrown to the matts from various positions . We learned to keep our chins tucked into our chests, we learned never to reach back with our hands and arms, we learned to roll on our sides and distribute the fall to our thighs and calfs, and to swing our arms down in a waving motion keeping the vulnerable parts of our bodies from injury.

Besides learning to fall which may not be practical for some, there are many other common sense things that can help prevent falling. Always use hand rails when available and never walk while reading as we see so often in the world today.

An alarming number of people walking while distracted while using their phones is a glaring example. Mr Steinberg reports that a study of more than 12,000 elderly French people in 2015 found connections between poor nutrition, falling, and fractures. Strength training is important for recovering from slips and upper body strength can help immensely  for surviving falls. In case you are wondering, I have had at least two serious falls in the last year, and I can say in all honesty Hanabusa San was one wise old Sensei. Thanks to Mr Steinberg and his mom for the heads up.  Remember "IF"  you can keep your feet when all around you are losing theirs, my friend you'll be a lot better off." Not Kipling but Bob Angone. Us Seniors can no longer say it was the good old days, "because we weren't good and we weren't old" stay upright  my friends.



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