We trust that the ground we walk on won't do anything to hurt us, but sometimes that just isn't the case.
Anyone can take a fall. And as fellow writer Lloyd Alter recently pointed out, all those falls are taking a toll. In 2016, almost 36,000 people died as a result of falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It helps to be prepared for when you take an eventual tumble.
Take the fall
If you're falling forward, your instinct is likely to try and catch yourself with your knees or your hands while your whole body stiffens up a bit. If you're falling backward, you're likely somewhat disoriented and you're going to smack your head on whatever surface is rapidly approaching your skull.
You don't want to do any of these things, however. Falling onto your hands or knees will result in all your weight landing on those parts of your body before you hit the ground. This is a good way to break or fracture something. As for falling backward, you don't want your back or especially your head to bear the brunt of that impact, either. In both cases, you don't want your body to be stiff; you should be as loose as you possibly can be in the situation.
So here's how to fall in a way that should minimize some of the damage.
1. Keep your head safe. If you're falling forward, turn your face to the side as you fall. You don't want a face full of whatever you're falling into, after all. If you're falling backward, tuck your chin down to lower your head. This minimizes the chances of your head taking the brunt of the impact as it bounces back.
2. Let the meat take the hit. As you're falling, attempt to roll your body to the side in the air and to land on the fleshiest parts of your body: the buttocks, the thighs and the shoulders.
3. Stay loose. Bend your knees and elbows as you fall. Stiffness is your enemy because all the tightness in your body won't absorb the impact. With bent limbs, you're a bit looser and your body will absorb more of the brunt of the fall. Similarly, you don't want to inhale as you fall since that will cause you to tense up. Exhale instead and stay loose.
4. Keep going with the fall. It's embarrassing to fall, but it's better if you roll with the fall instead of trying to catch yourself. Instead of stopping yourself, especially if you're going into a tumble, keep doing this until you've stopped naturally. "Spread the impact across a larger part of your body; don't concentrate impact on one area," professional stuntperson Alexa Marcigliano told AARP.
How to prevent falls
While falls are going to happen, you can take steps to minimize them.
1. Practice falling. In the moment of a fall, your brain and body aren't likely to remember all this. So practice falling. That way your body learns how to fall and the moves can become a better instinct than the instinct to catch yourself. The video below, while amusing in a weird way, can show you how to practice.
2. Wear the right kind of footwear. Make sure your shoes have solid, non-skid treads on them. If you're in an environment where spills are commonplace, wear slip-resistant shoes. Lose the high heels, the flip-flops and beloved slippers.
3. Be alert. Practice mindfulness about yourself and your surroundings. How fast are you moving? Is there anything potentially in your way? Does the ground underneath you feel uneven or slippery?
4. Get in touch with your body. This is along the lines of practicing falling but a bit more intense. Physical activities that strengthen your legs can help you keep steady, as can exercises that improve balance, like yoga and tai chi. If you want a bit more a workout that emphasizes how to fall safely, try parkour. No, seriously. You may think parkour is about doing cool jumps in urban environments, but it's about something much simpler.
"A lot of what we do is not jumping in between buildings and doing flips and tricks," Blake Evitt, who runs Parkour Generations Boston and coaches parkour classes for people 50 years and older, told CityLab. "It's strengthening [your body], having fun with movement and adapting to the environment."
Sounds exactly like a good way not to fall.