In the winter, learning how to navigate slippery sidewalks and streets, wearing the proper footwear and knowing how to fall properly can be lifesaving.
By Georgetta Lordi Morque
As we age we are all more susceptible to falls, mostly due to muscle weakness, trouble with mobility or balance, side effects from medications and fear of falling, according to studies from the New York City Department of Health. Jane Brody, veteran health columnist for The New York Times, also warns that injuries from falls rise during the winter months when slick and icy walkways are treacherous to navigate, making it even more critical for walkers of all ages to prevent falls and learn how to fall safely if they take a spill.
We all know people—young and old—who have suffered from hip fractures, broken bones and head injuries due to slippery or uneven pavements or hazards at home. While many people recover, studies show that falls can be deadly, particularly for older people. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four Americans aged 65 and older fall each year, making falls the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among older Americans.
Eve Aronoff-Trivella, 54, an instructor in judo, self-defense and fitness whom I met with recently, is the founder of a new initiative, Falling for Seniors. Eve believes that learning to fall safely is also an essential self-defense skill. “Once you get knocked down and get hurt, you can’t do anything, not even get up to call for help,” says Eve, who coaches groups and individuals on the safe way to fall. She also teaches exercises that help with strength, flexibility and balance, which, she says, will help prevent both seniors and younger people from falling. Flexibility, for example, is very important. “Those who lack mobility in the legs and shuffle are more at risk for falling,” she stresses. “But good posture, good balance and a strong core can help prevent a fall.”
All About Eve
Eve is a perfect example of her own mission. As a child, she suffered from rheumatic fever and couldn’t walk. But during her recovery, she saw a TV commercial for a martial arts center and she began learning judo at a time when girls had limited opportunities in sports, convincing her parents to let her join the center. Her first lesson was learning how to fall. At age 9, after only one judo lesson, she entered her first competition and was the only girl competing against boys, who had the highest-level rankings for juniors.
She lost miserably. But her lesson in falling served her well and she was determined not to lose. At the age of 11, she won a fitness competition at the Westchester County Center, beating both boys and girls by performing 500 sit-ups and excelling in races, hurdles and pushups, all skills she had mastered in martial arts training. Nowadays, she does 1,000 sit-ups daily while seated on an exercise ball and holding a 25-pound sand bag.
By the time she turned 12, more girls were taking up judo and Eve led the way, winning medals in 14 national championships and becoming a five-time U.S. Open Champion. She also competed successfully at the Pan American Games and other international competitions. But her most shining moment occurred at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. There, at the age of 25, she made history as a member of the first women’s judo team and earned sixth-place.
Eve, married and the mother of three adult children, currently teaches judo and offers fitness training to women and men of all ages—athletes and non-athletes—in her private gym in Westchester County and at her clients’ homes. She also travels around the U.S. leading judo seminars and she has taught judo to members of the New York Police Department in the Bronx. Eve believes that judo provides very good self-defense tactics and her entire family has put them to the test successfully.
Eve’s goal for Falling for Seniors is to run workshops with colleagues in other areas of the U.S. on how to prevent falls and how to protect yourself if you do fall using falling techniques. Eve is also happy to work with groups of women or individuals in the New York City area at their homes or offices.
Falling for Seniors Techniques
Eve has developed falling techniques that people can practice at home. But first check with your doctor, particularly if you have not been active. The most important element of the exercises is to protect your head from injury by keeping your chin tucked.
1. Above: Lie on your back on a bed with your knees bent and feet flat. Raise your head and shoulders off the bed and with straight arms in front of you, slap the bed on each side with both hands simultaneously while keeping your head tucked forward with your chin on your chest. Hold for several seconds. Roll back down and rest your head on the bed. Repeat five times. The idea is to get used to keeping your head tucked. This exercise also works the abdominal muscles. Slapping the hands down can be an effective way to minimize a fall by landing on your palms rather than your head or elbows.
2. Above: Lie on your right side on a bed with your knees bent and head tucked. Keeping your head tucked, roll to the left and slap your left hand on the bed. Roll to the right and slap your right hand on the bed. Repeat for several rounds. Be sure to roll from the foot of the bed to the head of the bed. Rolling while keeping your head tucked is important to remember when falling.
3. Leg raises for balance, strength and flexibility. Stand tall with your left hand on a wall and slowly raise your right leg straight in front of you and put it down. Then slowly raise your right leg to the side, put it down and then raise it to your back and put it down. Then turn around and put your right hand on the wall and do leg raises with your left leg. Gradually increase the number of repetitions. Eventually try the series without relying on a wall. This will help strengthen your leg muscles, stretch your hamstrings and help improve your balance. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Guide to Fall Prevention Classes and Tips on Fall Prevention from the New York City Department of Health
•Reduce falling hazards in your home and follow ahome-safety check list.
•Avoid shoes with heels higher than one inch; avoid flip-flops and slippers, even at home.
•Don’t walk in socks or stockings at home and limit walking barefoot.
•Have your eyesight and hearing checked regularly.
•Reduce your fear of falling by taking an assessment and talking to your doctor about getting support services.
Asphalt Green Skills in Motion—A Unique Approach to Fall Prevention: Exercise program for those 60+ to improve functional balance. 20-week program, which meets twice a week, was developed in conjunction with the Hospital for Special Surgery Orthopedic Physical Therapy Center. New session begins in February. Free for members. $200 for nonmembers. Includes an assessment. Asphalt Green’s Upper East Side Campus, 1750 York Avenue, 212-369-8890, www.Asphaltgreen.org
JCCFall Stop…Move Strong: A nationally recognized program developed in New York City; research was conducted at the Martha Stewart Center for Living at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Targets all muscle groups to increase strength, flexibility and balance. Session runs January 22 to May 14, 2018. Introductory class meets Mondays from noon to 1 pm. $300 non-members, $261 members. Intermediate and advance classes also offered as participants progress. JCC Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Avenue, 646-505-4412, www.jccmanhattan.org