Falls are now the leading cause of death in people over the age of 75. Of course, many more people fall each year and survive (about one-third of people over 65), but falling can cause other problems and often leads to incapacitation. That's because older folks especially need to keep moving to keep their muscles in shape — and that's almost impossible if you've broken a hip or another bone in a fall.
"Each day you are immobilised, you lose 3-4 per cent of your muscle strength," Professor Tahir Masud, chair of the British Geriatrics Society’s Falls and Bone Health Special Interest Group, told the Daily Mail.
Age, of course, doesn't have to mean loss of grace or coordination. Check out this 96-year-old yoga teacher. But beyond keeping yourself moving as you get older, there might be another way to protect yourself from falls: high heels.
Seems counterintuitive, doesn't it? Wouldn't heels be more likely to trip you up as you age?
It's actually the opposite.
Due to their smaller surface area, heels force you to make many small muscle adjustments as you walk and navigate the world. They force you to challenge your proprioception, which is the communication between your brain, your inner ear and your body. Whenever you wear heels, the balance challenge helps you maintain the ability to move with grace and encourages core strength. If you've never worn heels, you shouldn't jump into wearing them nonstop. But if you are thinking you should give them up because you are getting older, you might want to rethink that idea.
"When we get older, we tend to try to protect ourselves against falls by wearing broader and flatter shoes and not walking on rough or uneven ground. But this means that we lose the practice of maintaining good balance. So although we’re trying to protect ourselves, our balance actually deteriorates. So there may be a protective element to wearing heels," Christopher Walker, a consultant in trauma and orthopedic surgery at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital told the Daily Mail.
Of course, exercise matters, too. Because muscles begin to deteriorate in our 30s, it's important to keep up both cardio exercise and strength training. But many people, young and old alike, forget to work on balance and grace too. Heels are one way to keep that going. (Dancing in heels — like ballroom dancing — is especially good for balance.) So exercise to wear heels, and wear heels to make exercise easier too.
Feel like you don't know how to walk in heels? This video gives some practical advice on doing so. (Hint: Start with a low heel and work your way up.)
Of course, good quality shoes, regardless of heel height, are important to maintain foot health, and wearing very high heels all day, every day may cause foot issues. Like anything else in a healthy life, moderation is the key. Doctors recommend about a 2-inch heel height. We're not talking stilettos here.
Want to keep your balance but still can't get behind wearing heels or just don't like them? Both Tai Chi and yoga can accomplish much of what wearing heels does by focusing on balance and movement at the same time, which challenges muscles and mind.
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