By Maurie Hill

A stumble a day won’t keep the doctor at bay. Stumbles and falls can cause injury, permanent disability, and even death. It is easy to see why those of us with vision loss may be at a greater risk of falling. But now there is data that supports it. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) finding, Falls Among Persons Aged≥65 With and Without Severe Vision Loss shows a 59% increase in reported falls among those with severe vision loss compared to those who do not report such vision loss. Some of the factors noted are low visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, poor balance, poor gait, and weakness in lower extremity muscles.

When not using a mobility aid, or in unfamiliar territory or hazardous weather conditions, falls are bound to occur. Poor balance, poor gait, and weak muscles as well as muscle stiffness are things we can control at any age. I know this from experience in my quest to reduce my own fears of injurious falling during long icy winters. So how can we prevent that slip from ruining our day?

After playing blind ice hockey last year, I was enormously empowered mentally but battered and stiff physically. At age 55, I thought this must be my new reality. But reading “Aging Backwards” by Miranda Esmonde-White, gave me hope that I could root out this muscle stiffness that was limiting my mobility on and off the ice. According to Miranda’s book, muscle atrophy is what signals the aging process to begin, resulting in weak and inflexible muscles, inflamed joints, and bad posture, among other things. By targeting muscle atrophy, it appeared that agility and falling gracefully, without injury, does not have to be a thing of our youthful past!

I started slowly by just watching and listening to Miranda’s PBS early morning exercise program called “Classical Stretch”. I liked her gentle style of physical education. Then I started following along and it felt good. I have found that reactivating all 600+ muscles and getting out that stiffness takes surprisingly little – little time, little effort, little or no money, and even little space. For me, this 23 minute program is relaxing and enjoyable instead of boring and painful.

Now it’s my religion. My spine has straightened up, my knees are no longer puffy and sore, and every muscle is strong. Most notably, the stiffness that was restricting my mobility is gone. And how does that help with the falling? Awkward slips tend to cause injury because you’re relying on lateral muscles that are not typically toned in traditional sports or exercise. When you make every muscle strong and flexible, you’re able to catch yourself, or fall gracefully without injury.

Do you remember when you thought your computer days were numbered? ZoomText Fusion allows me to continue using a computer despite my vision. And “Classical Stretch” lets me easily continue to use my body as a vehicle as I step away from my computer with no stiffness.

Whatever method you choose, improving your agility will lower your risk of debilitating injuries. Walking stronger, feeling better, and keeping your best transportation vehicle, your own body, well-tuned does not require an expensive gym membership. My genetically pre-disposed degenerative vision loss is out of my control, so having the power to stop muscle degeneration feels good. Using caution as well as lowering your chances of a bad life-changing fall is worth the effort. From your fingers to your toes, keep moving, gracefully!