Are you planning for winter yet? Even if you live in a state that doesn’t get much snow, you probably already make plans for dealing with colder weather. So here’s something to think about: if you take time and trouble make your home or car ready for winter, doesn’t it make sense to get your body ready as well? Especially since it takes a whole lot longer to tune up the body by building strength and reflexes than it does to rotate tires or change a vehicle’s oil.
You may intend to hit the mountains this winter, either because you enjoy skiing or snowboarding or just like to relax in front of a blazing fire in a resort lodge. But the snow-covered surfaces outside are slippery. Perhaps you live where many storms leave icy steps and sidewalks in their wake.
Now put that together with an established medical fact: one of the biggest causes of disability and death among the late middle-aged and elderly are falls. American Family Physician writes, “The mortality rate for falls increases dramatically with age in both sexes, and in all racial and ethnic groups, with falls accounting for 70 percent of accidental deaths in persons 75 years of age and over.”
But falls don’t just start in the 70’s, they begin much earlier. It doesn’t matter whether you’re athletic and the fall happens when you’re bombing black diamond runs, or whether you spend most of your day sitting, but once outside, your feet slip on an icy sidewalk and you fall down and break your hip. It will take several months to build the muscle, reflexes and balance to increase your personal safety in winter. Making your body physically fit should be an annual physical procedure, just like checking your car’s anti-freeze as the weather turns.
One of the big keys to preventing falls, whether of the athletic kind or the accidental slip outdoors, is building balance. But balance is a factor of physical strength. A recent study published in PubMed.gov confirms this in the statement, “Balance and muscle force generation are directly related and are associated with age related muscular changes.”
It’s also a scientific fact that it takes at least two months, often more, to begin seeing noticeable results from a training program. The older you are, the longer such development will take, which is another reason to work on year-round exercise and fitness. But even two months of muscle-building resistance is better than nothing.
You don’t have to join a gym to work on balance. An international ‘Masters’ athlete (those 45 and older) once told me of an exercise he does daily to improve his strength and balance. He stands on one leg for a minute, then switches and stands on the other leg. He often holds dumbbells while doing this, and leans his torso forward, back and from side to side.
Supporting his body weight on one leg builds muscles and balance reflexes, while turning his torso while balancing on one leg strengthens his core. He also never sits to put on his clothing. Standing while putting on underwear, shoes, socks and pants is good for building balance reflexes.
I personally find it easier to have workout equipment at home, rather than going to the gym. Over time, I have collected a set of dumbbells of various weights, and different size balance balls.
Lifting weights while sitting or lying on a balance ball forces muscles to find their balance point. Since my sport is ski racing, this kind of instinctive balance, along with the strength built up by the workouts, help my skiing, and also my confidence. Being confident that if your feet start to slip, you can instinctively counter-balance to stay upright, is an important part of saving yourself from a disabling fall. If you’re athletic, it’s even more important, because athletes deliberately put themselves in risky situations.
When thinking about getting your body ready for winter, concentrate on what will be most mentally comfortable for you. You can work out at a gym, build up a store of equipment to exercise at home, hire a trainer, or spend the remaining warm months hiking and doing agility exercises.
Searching the Internet for the most efficient way to build your body for winter will also improve your computer search skills. Improving yourself mentally as well as physically may seem hard at first, but you’ll soon get used to it. And the payoff is worth all the effort: You may avoid being one of the fall statistics that end up in the ER every winter.