Fine After 50: Learning How to Fall

Note: Do not try any of these suggestions without checking first with your doctor or health care provider.

One aspect of being “Fine after 50” is remaining active for as long as you can. As I shared in a previous post, I think that there are at least four different aspects to remaining active: strength, flexibility, aerobic capacity and being able to balance. Parallel to those four aspects, though, is something I think is critically important as well: learning how to fall properly. Falls truly can incapacitate us in ways we cannot anticipate: ask anybody who has broken a hip or both wrists after accidentally tripping and falling. Ask me: I destroyed my left hand and wrist when I tripped and fell in a parking lot in July 2010.

It is possible to fall and come away unscathed. A while ago, my partner, Michael, and I were attending a docent training at a local museum; a group of us walked from a lit hallway into a darkened hall where we were supposed to do a presentation. Unbeknownst to any of us, the room had been used for another presentation and somebody had moved dark wooden benches to the center of the room. Michael fell head over heels when he walked straight into one at a brisk pace.

Michael relaxed and rolled. He twisted his body as he fell so that instead of landing on his face or head, he landed on the back of one of his shoulders. He used the momentum of the fall to help him roll through the fall so that he ended standing up, relatively intact. And that is essentially how to fall correctly:

  • Relax. Do not tense up.
  • Tuck and roll. Protect your head as best you can.
  • If you are falling forward, turn your body so that you land on the back of one of your shoulders. Tuck your head toward your chest, away from the floor.
  • If you are falling backwards, relax and roll as if you are rocking in a rocking chair, keeping your chin to your chest.
  • Try to roll with the fall–not against the fall but with the fall. Think of steering when your car hits water or ice and skids–you turn with the skid until you straighten out. Same here, roll with the fall so that you are in control as much as you can be.

These suggestions are not something that you can do without practice–and it truly helps to be strong and flexible as well. If possible, check out local self-defense classes or see if your adult education has specific classes on falling. If not, you can practice falling on your bed.

More later….

Keeping Fit after 50: Introduction

Keeping fit means something different to a 30-year old than it does to those of us over 50, especially those of us with physical challenges. A few years ago, I had dinner in a restaurant next to a family with an elderly relative. She was really quite elegant and from what i could overhear, she seemed mentally¬† and emotionally vital. When dinner was over, though, she lacked sufficient strength to raise herself up from the chair in which she was sitting. To get up, she had to rock back and forth until her body had enough momentum so that she could push herself out of the chair using both her arms. Even with the help of added momentum, she needed assistance to stand. I remember thinking, “Wow! It’s her legs. Her thigh muscles are weak. If only her thigh muscles were stronger, she might have a lot more freedom…”

Prior to that moment, I saw exercising and dieting as simply the means to achieve the elusive goal of being physically attractive. Not that looking great is not a worthy goal–it is just that if you look great and still can’t hoist yourself out of a chair, looking great loses its value. In the long run, it’s better to aim toward staying mobile and active.

There are four different areas to being physically fit after 50: strength, flexibility, aerobic capacity and balance. These four areas form the pillars of your physical fitness.

  • Strength helps you move your body through space.
  • Flexibility helps you move freely.
  • Aerobic capacity provides stamina.
  • Balance helps keep you from falling.

Neglecting any one of these four pillars can cause instability and keep you from reaching your full “at this point in time” physical potential. For example, flexibility without strength can lead to instability; strength without flexibility can lead to injury. Without stamina, you might find it hard to maintain quality of life. And trust me on this: you can wipe out everything with one bad fall.

Coming soon: Where to begin…

Can’t Go to Sleep?

Among my other medical conditions, I have high blood pressure. It’s probably because my arteries have become hardened and clogged from eating too much red meat and too many french fries over the years; however, I believe one of the contributing factors is the fact that I’m never relaxed when my blood pressure is being taken. No matter how calm and relaxed I may be when I first walk into a doctor’s examination room, as soon as the nurse starts to wheel that blood pressure stand over to where I’m sitting, I get tense. I just haven’t figured out yet how to relax when my blood pressure is being taken, or during certain other routine activities of everyday life.

I wish someone would take my blood pressure while I’m asleep. I think it would be much lower. Why? Because I think I’ve pretty much mastered the art of relaxing before falling asleep, which helps me fall asleep quickly and sleep relaxed and without waking up during the night. Want to learn how? Keep reading….

In Health Advice for 2012, two of Dr. George Calver’s 10 Commandments of Health are “Relax Completely” and “Sleep Sufficiently.” I think these two activities are very closely related. If you can’t relax when you go to bed at night, you’re going to have trouble going to sleep and you’re going to have trouble staying asleep.You may spend 8 hours sleeping off and on, but if you are stewing about something that happened during the day, or if you are stressed about something that’s going to happen tomorrow, you’ll get less effective rest than someone who sleeps relaxed for 5 uninterrupted hours.

Obviously, if you’re experiencing physical pain when you go to bed, the pain is going to make relaxation extremely difficult. So the following techniques may not work if you’re in pain; nevertheless, I think they’re worth a try.

My relaxation methodology consists of two steps. The first step — the first thing I do when I get in bed — is to take a deep breath and let it out. As I let the breath out, I let go of all the tension in my body at the same time. My body sinks deeper into the bed (in my case, a recliner chair) as I release all of the tension in every muscle.

Try this yourself. You will actually feel yourself sinking deeper into your mattress as you release the tension in your body.

The second step in my relaxation formula is to pray. Now if you’re rolling your eyes at the thought of talking to the air because you don’t believe in the existence of a personal creator-God who can actually read your thoughts and hear and answer your silent petitions, try meditation, or try putting on your headphones and listening to soft, soothing music on your iPod.

The key thing in this second step, however you choose to do it, is to relax your mind and get rid of the things that you are worrying about or fretting about or stressing over. If prayer doesn’t work for you, you’ve got to figure out a way to clear your mind of all worrisome and stressful thoughts. If you can’t do this, your body will go right back to being tense and you’ll have to start over and repeat step one.

When I pray after I’ve gone to bed and completed relaxation step one, I first ask God to help me relax and to help me fall asleep quickly and to cause me to sleep soundly through the night without waking up. I then thank God for the day and for as many things as I can think of to thank Him for. Often I fall asleep before I finish giving thanks to God in prayer. If I make it past giving thanks, I then begin praying about the things and/or people I’m worried about or that are causing stress in my life. I pray for calmness, for peace, for grace and patience — for whatever I feel is needed in my life or in the lives of others, depending on the situation.

Sometimes as I’m praying I’ll sense that I’m getting tense again. It’s back to step one whenever that happens. I’ll repeat step one as many times as necessary to keep my muscles and my body relaxed and free of all tension.

If you are worried about tomorrow or next week or next month, or about the future in general, remember the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)

If you have trouble relaxing your body and releasing your physical tension, try praying first, or try one of your other step two methods of relaxing your mind. If you decide to try listening to music, make sure the music is soft, relaxing, and soothing. Don’t listen to music with a strong beat, or music that makes you want to jump up and down and wave your arms. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of music per se, but it won’t help you relax your mind and go to sleep if it’s not helping you relax your body.

We encourage you to try these relaxation techniques for a week or two and let us know how they’re working for you. Do you have a different relaxation technique that works for you when you go to bed? Please share it with us in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

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Blast from the Past: Health Advice for 2012

Some health advice is timeless. What follows applies just as much today as it did when it was first written, more than 60 years ago.

In 1928, incumbent members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were dying at the appalling rate of almost 20 per year. On December 5th, after one House member had dropped dead and two others had collapsed from causes attributed to overwork in the first four days of that month alone, the House passed a resolution directing the Secretary of the Navy to appoint a medical officer to be present near the House Chamber while that body was in session.The Secretary of the Navy appointed Dr. George Calver, who initially took up residence in the House Democratic Cloakroom.

In April, 1930, the Senate adopted a concurrent resolution extending Dr. Calver’s jurisdiction to its premises. Thus was born the Office of Attending Physician, which moved to two ground-floor rooms in its current location near the midpoint of the Capitol’s west-front corridor.

For the next 35 years, Dr. Calver captured national media attention with his health advice to hardworking members of congress. His “Nine Commandments of Health,” first reported nationally by the New York Times Magazine on February 3, 1951, were printed on large placards and displayed throughout the Capitol. Dr. Calver later modified them slightly, adding a 10th commandment, and printed them on wallet-sized cards which were distributed to every member of Congress with the following admonition: “If a man wishes to be on the job and physically fit, he must obey the following simple rules.”

Here then are the

THE 10 COMMANDMENTS OF HEALTH

  1. EAT WISELY
  2. DRINK PLENTIFULLY (OF WATER)
  3. ELIMINATE THOROUGHLY
  4. BATHE CLEANLY
  5. EXERCISE RATIONALLY
  6. ACCEPT INEVITABLES (DON’T WORRY)
  7. PLAY ENTHUSIASTICALLY
  8. RELAX COMPLETELY
  9. SLEEP SUFFICIENTLY
  10. CHECK UP OCCASIONALLY

P.S. Give 5% of your time to keeping well. You won’t have to give 100% getting over being sick.

May you have a prosperous and healthy 2012!

(Information sources for this article: Wikipedia, AARP Bulletin January-February 2012)