When walking the dog becomes a step in the dark, we need better balance.
In a phone conversation with my sister tonight it came to light that when she has been walking her dog Willow on uneven ground, she has more than once lost her balance. It seems that her ankle just suddenly gives way, this has resulted in more than one fall, the ankle is painful for weeks afterwards.
What did the doctor say?
The doctor suggested an ankle support, okay in trousers maybe but not in a dress, she hasn’t bothered with it. My sister had researched exercises on the Internet that might help but had not actually practiced any of them.
A friend that she walks with who is a nurse noticed that her sense of balance is not what it could be. We can all learn something useful from the Chinese who in there culture consider it normal to go out early every morning and practice exercises that involve balance and stretching. Us westerners will think it a fine idea to do the cross word to keep the memory working but don’t on mass fill the parks at the break of dawn to keep our bodies working.
The dog walker’s best friend
As any dog walker will happily tell you mans best friend is better than any exercise machine going. Rain or shine dogs have to be and take delight in being walked. Those big brown pleading eyes get you out of your comfort zone and into the great outdoors,fresh air and exercise are always worth the effort. The twice daily ritual, if your busy can seem a chore but it does you a power of good and you will miss it when it is no longer required. Unfortunately it’s normally only when we stop performing a habit that is healthy that we realise how much good that it was doing us, at the time we are too aware of the effort that it takes and not so much maybe the benefits that we are getting from the activities. However for all the general health gains of regular walking to regain a greater range of movement improve our posture and breathing and increase our sense of balance we need specific exercises.
Static and moving balance exercises
I explained to my sister about some of the better balance exercises that we do in Tai Chi Plus + and various exercises to regain suppleness in the feet and ankles. Movements from the tai chi form involve stepping in all directions slowly to improve your control and balance this sort of training can be life enhancing and it’s fun to. So static balance exercises to start,for instance standing on one leg, followed by slow motion stepping in several directions to keep balanced on the move.The next step for anyone who wants to give it a go is to get the judo mats out and to learn how to fall.
The fear of falling
The biggest cause of falling is the fear of falling, we all start to slip occasionally, maybe on a bit of ice but tensing up out of panic causes a top heaviness and a slip becomes a fall. As my sister said a fall now is one thing but in your seventies or older it could be very bad. By losing a lot of your fear of falling, by learning how to fall safely on a judo mat you can go with the sudden movement of a slip, stay relaxed and catch yourself before you go down.
One of the most disconcerting things about having a fall is often the suddenness of it. One minute your on your feet fine and dandy then whoosh your looking at the sky! By training in how to do a controlled fall and becoming aware of your balance and loosing your balance you won’t have that how did I get here feeling if you do fall you will be aware of what just happened and will probably be less damaged.
Rommany the pony that I ride on the New forest twice a week had me off three times in the first month of riding her. I had never fallen from the horses that I’d previously ridden, but Rommany a flighty spooky pony required a new level of riding, it was a steep learning curve. I am happy to say that the falls only average about once a year now,the last one involved her spinning around suddenly and thundering back down the ice covered hill at a full gallop that we had just climbed.The first fall from Rommany involved a cow caught in a fence, you never know what you will find in the forest! You play and sometimes you pay and boy it’s all the fun of the fair and any rider accepts that if you get on a horse you will sometimes fall off a horse, but learning how to break fall is of particular interest to horse riders.
At the more advanced levels of martial arts training I’ve had students who could break fall on concrete, bounce up ready to fight. One student who got her black belt in Japan told me that the test required break falling down the temple steps! Jockeys the warriors of the racing world, who fall on average every thirteen races, once they hit the ground, then have to contend with the galloping thoroughbreds behind them.
Putting balance exercises into your everyday routine
If its possible to train for and survive the more extreme falls, the risk of injury from every day falls can be diminished with some training. This training along with regular practice of the better balance exercises taught in Tai Chi Plus + can greatly reduce your risk of injury even with two excited dogs towing you over rough ground. A key thing with any skill is practice and fitting that practice into your existing routine I suggested to my sister that once I had shown her these exercises and helped her to get the technique reasonably right she should try and do them every time she was boiling the kettle for a cup of tea. A full kettle gives more time to practice and a cup of tea is a reward that you have then earned for another better balance practice session. If we are to make doing stretching breathing and balancing exercises part of our daily habits, little and often is best and why not link them to an existing habit such as having a cup of tea?
Better balance with Tai Chi
Many of the breathing and balancing exercises taught in Tai Chi Plus+ are so subtle that people in a public place would not even know that you were practicing them. Why not combine exercising the dog in the park with doing exercises for yourself? Instead of standing there like a lemon while the dog enjoys all those scents and runs around exercising why not lift a leg off the ground and breath deep!