12 Mar 2021

Kiwis underestimate falling risk

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:30 pm on 12 March 2021

Many of us at some point will have a fall, particularly as we get older. Falling over is the most common way of injuring yourself in New Zealand and injuries from falls make up 39 percent of all ACC claims. 

Most falls take place in the home and the risk from falling rises as we age. 

Injury leg. Young man with injured leg. Young woman doctor helps the patient

Photo: 123RF

Corrective exercise specialist Marya Hopman tells Jesse Mulligan people don’t take notice that what’s important is how we move when we exercise or even do simple tasks, like walk, sit and stand.

“Some of us want to go and do sports, go for tramps and things like that but really it’s about being fit for daily living and so you need to know how to apply your fitness to day-to-day living.”

Some reading or listening to the interview may be slouched down on a couch or chair, but Hopman says it’ll be easier if you lift up your chest, use the back muscles, and engage the core and belly muscles.

“People just aren’t aware, I think it’s a lifestyle thing, because of the way we live we’ve switched off the muscles in our belly and butt and the muscles around our ribcage.”

And that’s where falling fits in, because those muscles should be forming the base of our ‘crane’.

“So if you think about the crane in the big cities, the most important thing about the crane is the base of the crane. If it’s not secure, it’s not going to be able to lift heavy weights, it’s not going to be able to reach far, it’s going to topple over.”

Hopman says many don’t really understand what it feels like to engage their core.

“Our base is actually not our legs – our base is actually our muscles say from our armpits to our hips. If we learn to draw those muscles together, it helps to keep us upright and stable, so there’s less chance of us falling.

“Then you need to learn how to keep that engaged as you twist, and turn, and reach and push and pull.”

She says she herself has changed her approach in how gives instructions since she started working with people with Parkinson’s and the elderly.

“It’s only been in watching people and seeing they weren’t sitting up straight or they weren’t doing it, that I had to explore the language I use to instruct them and as I explored that language it actually become clearer to me how I should hold myself. It was like a real ‘aha!’ moment even for myself.”

She says creating visualisations so that it becomes meaningful to them, so they internalise it and apply it their daily lives is better than simply saying ‘draw your belly into your spine’.

“There’s a simple little thing I do where I say just imagine you have a little shelf across your hips and on top of the shelf is a glass of water, and what we want to do is we want to pull the muscles up from the hips and down from the ribs to hold the glass of water, because we don’t to spill any water.

“And you’re keeping your belly drawn in, because if you’ve got a bit of a belly you’re going end up pushing that glass of water off the shelf.

“You should see how people change, they look different, their faces light up because they feel more empowered … and you can learn it so quickly and it’s just the words we use.

“Very few places do I hear, when you get up out of your chair, use your butt muscles – like someone’s booting you up the backside and you get up out of that chair a heck of a lot quicker. Don’t just rely on those legs.”

After spending time training at CityFitness, taking courses and being a rehab trainer, Hopman has moved on with SuperCue, which offers exercise programmes online and on DVD.

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