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How the daredevil sport of parkour can help aging adults fall better

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As unusual as it is to see someone over forty doing the extreme sport of parkour, it is a discipline that could help reduce your fall risk as you age.

Posted: Feb. 22, 2019 10:00 AM
Updated: Feb. 22, 2019 10:00 AM

It looks like something out of a ninja movie. The extreme sport known as parkour involves vaulting high obstacles, leaping from rooftop to rooftop and literally bouncing off the walls.

It's all about moving through an environment quickly, jumping, crawling and climbing over obstacles. Parkour, also called "freerunning," is not for the faint of heart. But, with a few modifications, it might be just the thing for older people at risk of falling.

The basics of parkour entail balance and knowing how to safely break a fall. "A lot of what we are first working on is balance," said Austin Gall, who teaches a parkour class for beginners at Aerial Warehouse in Culver City, California. "Just being able to balance along a rail without falling off or just simple things like footwork and jumping really low small distances."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths in the United States for adults over 65. What's more, a non-fatal fall can have a tremendous impact on quality of life.

"Older adults who do fall sometimes experience an injury," said Kathy Cameron, director of the National Fall Prevention Resource Center. "About 20% of those who fall have an injury like traumatic brain injury or a hip fracture or other broken bones."

But it's not just the bodily injuries that make falling so harmful. The simple fear of falling makes some older people eschew physical activity. And that, ironically, can lead to greater falling risks.

"Physical activity is one of the prime ways that we can prevent falls," Cameron said. "Exercise programs that improve balance and strengthen muscles are going to enhance our gait so that we can walk better and have better balance."

In addition to focusing on balance, Gall said, there is one particular move that can be particularly helpful to someone prone to falls.

"I think the most important thing is being able to drop down into a roll to break your fall," he said.

A parkour roll is like a martial arts tumble. As the person hits the ground, they roll from one shoulder to the opposite hip. This sort of roll, correctly done, minimizes a fall's full force by distributing the impact across the body.

With the help of an experienced parkour instructor, aging adults can learn not only to recover from falls but to avoid injury. "I'm excited to see how parkour is going to evolve over the next few years as it's adapted for older adults," Cameron said.

"I think there are components of it that are really important for reducing fall risks."

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