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Shuffling along

From a distance we can see that senior citizen unmistakable shuffling along, small steps in a turtle pace and looking down at the ground. You may be surprised that the pattern of walking usually has no mechanical cause.

Kelly Farris,  ACSM CPT

Research has shown in healthy seniors with no disease or history of falls adopt this gait pattern solely due to “fear of falling.” Most everyone can relate to this fear. Ever walked on ice or snow?

We naturally change the way we move and walk to prevent ourselves from falling; it’s a natural response to prevent a fall. How can a natural response eventually lead to a fall?

Studies show that a fear-induced altered gait pattern can eventually lead to a fall. Altering your gait purposely can have a profound impact on muscles used while walking. Cautious walking can lead to less foot clearance to the ground (shuffling).

Knees bent to lower your center of gravity reduces your natural arm swing that balances the movement of the legs. With all these altered walking movements it reduces the load to the muscles and causes muscle atrophy to the point you can no longer stabilize your body while moving. Take shrunken muscles, tiny steps, altered balance and a crack in a sidewalk and ‘bam’ you are going to fall.

So what can you do to improve your gait, balance and fear of falling?

The first thing  I tell my clients undergoing gait training is to “look up.” Your eyes will guide you through obstacles ahead. As an avid mountain biker, we say look through the corners, your eyes tell your brain how to navigate through technical obstacles you find on the trails. You are much less likely to fall if you see what’s coming.

Functional training, training with life specific movements and balance exercises. Enlist the services of a certified personal trainer that has specific skills in corrective exercise. This type of training can dramatically change your gait for better, safer movement. 

Get on the floor, no one wants to fall and then can’t get up. Many people don’t have the strength to get off the floor. Simply because they don’t do it anymore. Practice makes perfect, practice getting up and down from the floor. In the trendy world of fitness options, most of which are not suitable for the average person. Real-world movements are often forgotten and not addressed.

Bottom line is addressing “fear of falling”, can dramatically improve seniors increase self-efficacy and build confidence. Ultimately resulting in a better quality of life and continued independence.

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