PUMPING IRONY: A Question of Balance

You get old, you fall, you die. But there are alternatives.

My good friend, M.E., is hosting perhaps the last visit from his father-in-law, an 80-something retiree from Sacramento affectionately known as “Big Jim.” Last week, Jim reportedly lost his balance on the basement stairs, banging his head and eliciting much concern from the entire M.E. household. Jim, a former college football player with arthritic knees, shrugged off the whole incident, despite the bump on the back of his head, assuring his hosts that he was just fine.

Not long before this incident, My Lovely Wife reported that her 82-year-old mother had taken a tumble somewhere between her bed and the bathroom. Again, no harm done, which is fortunate, since breaking a hip at that age is pretty much a death sentence — 80 percent of elderly victims die within a year.

I’ve got this thing about thinking ahead, so even though I’m 18 years short of my 80s (which makes me feel like a youngster by comparison) I can’t help thinking of ways I can prepare myself for those days when gravity becomes more enemy than ally. Issue number one, it seems to me, is bone density. If you avoid weight-bearing exercise, I’ve been told, you’ll be much more susceptible to fractures in your twilight years. And to build bone density, you need to strain the muscles on a regular basis. Weight training is highly recommended, as is plyometrics and running or hiking. (Here are some basics to consider.) I’d like to say that issue number one is balance, but it appears that geezers simply can’t depend on their innate sense of equilibrium to keep them vertical as they age.

Muscle Versus Brain Reaction

A new study from the University of Michigan explains the problem for us oldsters: Our brain reacts to imbalance much more quickly than our muscles do, so even though we may know we’re on the way to the floor, we can’t react in time to prevent the fall. This would no doubt be highly frustrating.

I’m thankfully not at that point yet — except when I’m tripping over one of our cats in the kitchen — and I’m confident that my regular kettlebell routine (and, I suppose, my weekly yoga practice, lame though it may be) might delay the day when I need a walker to get around.

In the meantime, I’ll send my best wishes to Big Jim, my mother-in-law, and all the elderly out there doing their best to stay upright. I know it’s not as easy as it once seemed.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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