Falling Down, and Getting Up

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Let’s talk about falling down.

No, this is not a review of the 1993 Michael Douglas’ action/thriller. Although, I did see it when it came out, and I recall it being a pretty good flick. Nor is it about the Iron Maiden song Man on the Edge (in which “Falling Down” was the chorus), although I do recall it being a pretty rockin’ tune. It is, literally, about gravity taking you for an unplanned ride.

Lately I’ve been writing about how to live a healthy lifestyle; eat better, exercise harder, live better and longer. What I haven’t been writing about is, “Why?” Why live a healthier lifestyle; eating better, exercising harder, living better and living longer?

I suppose I don’t really delve into this very much because to me the answer is obvious. I love my life. I have a wonderful wife and three great kids, and I want to stay hale and hearty to enjoy it all as much as I can, for as long as I can.

But as I think more deeply about it, I realize there’s a level beyond living well and living longer. There are good reasons, in a practical day to day sense, to live this active, healthy lifestyle. Let’s talk about one of them; falling down.

Wait, wut? Falling down?

Yes, falling down.

“It’s not about how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up.”

This quote, in various forms, has been attributed to approximate 4 quadrillion people. I don’t really care very much who first expressed the idea, but I do want to talk about it.

As we get older we suffer two interconnected problems, each one increasing our risks due to falls. As we age, our balance declines, as does our bone density. Therefore, as we age, we suffer both the increased risk of falling, and the increased risk of catastrophic injury due to falling.

How bad is it? There are over 3 million emergency room visits per year from injuries due to falls. According to the CDC, over 30 000 Americans over 65 die each year from a fall, making it the 7th leading cause of death amongst older people.

The chain of events is really simple:

  • Falling down, leads to
  • Breaking a bone, needing a
  • Long recovery time, leading to
  • Difficulty getting back to normal life and exercise, which leads to
  • Lowered long term health and lifestyle, including
  • Obesity, stress and sleep problems, all of which contribute to poor health and increased mortality.

What do exercise and nutrition have to do with this? Let’s start with exercise, specifically resistance training. Resistance training stresses your bones, slowing bone loss and even leading to bone growth. In particular, weight training particularly helps the bones of the hips, spine and wrists. You know, the bones most likely to break in a fall. Don’t believe me? Okay then, do you believe Harvard?

Next, nutrition. Make sure you are getting sufficient vitamin D, calcium and magnesium in your diet. The need for calcium is pretty obvious, you need it for bone growth. Vitamin D is important in the absorption of calcium, and magnesium regulates the metabolism of vitamin D. This three way interrelationship is the reason so many companies offer calcium, magnesium and vitamin D in a single supplement.

The Ca-Mg-Vitamin D supplement isn’t enough, though. Most of those I’ve seen give you in the 500iu range of vitamin D, and recent research indicates you need up to 4000iu vitamin D daily, because vitamin D does a whole lot of good, including beyond skeletal health, including;

  • Boosting immune function.
  • Cardiovascular health and blood pressure regulation.
  • Insulin regulation and weight gain.
  • Mood regulation; SAD, serotonin release.
  • Cancer prevention (breast, colon, ovarian and prostate).
  • Ward off cognitive decline and dementia.

But none of those have to do with falling, really. So what does vitamin D have to do with it? Vertigo. There is evidence linking vitamin D deficiency and vertigo, and that increasing vitamin D levels reduces vertigo.

Let’s look at that event chain again, but in reverse. By increasing vitamin D, calcium and magnesium in your diet and including resistance training in your exercise regimen you:

  • Reduce the risk of vertigo leading to
  • A reduced risk of falling, along with
  • Increased bone density, so if you fall there is a
  • Reduced risk of bone breaks, reducing the risk of
  • Long recovery times, loss of normalcy, sleep problems, stress and weight gain.

As I noted above, I have important reasons to live healthily and well, reasons outside of myself. But even if you’re an anti-social, shut-in hermit with no contact with the outside world, you should live a healthy, active lifestyle. Preventing falls, and easier recovery should you fall, are two powerful reasons why.

So let’s return to that quote:

“It’s not about how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up.”

And let’s flip it on it’s head. It’s not about how many times you get up, it’s about how many times you fall down. Every fall we take increases the odds that we will get hurt, leading to all the noted poor outcomes. How about instead of concentrating on getting back up, we work on not falling down in the first place?

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