The recent damning report into care services for older people in Edinburgh highlighted an often overlooked key area in the protection of the elderly that costs the NHS in Scotland an estimated £125 million every year.
Falls prevention and management can be a significant factor in older people being admitted to hospital.
According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy if everyone aged 65+ at risk of falling was referred to one of their members, 18,800 falls would be prevented, saving the NHS £27m per annum. With this in mind one qualified physio is urging us to leave the sofa and embrace the floor as a way to improve mobility of ankles, knees, hips and lower back.
So, it really is time we “hit the floor” – before we literally hit the floor... but not in a good way.
Caroline Foster, who has also recently completed her yoga teacher training, says that showing a person how to get safely on and off the floor is a common component of falls prevention programmes and common sense tells us that if we get ourselves accustomed to sitting on the floor before it becomes problematic, this can only be a good thing.
The theory is that humans are essentially animals and our bodies are designed for us to sit on the floor. Especially in western society, we have developed problems because of chairs, toilets and beds being at a handy height for us.
Foster says that, because our knees and hips spend a lot of time at 90 degrees – but rarely bending past it – this is bad news for the joints and muscles supporting them. However, you don’t have to be a mat-carrying member of the yoga club to feel the benefit of this.
Sitting cross-legged, straight-legged, wide-legged or any other legged you can think off, doesn’t matter as much as being on the floor, as each position will open up the body in a different way. The last time most of us sat on the floor for any length of time was at primary school.
I put the caramel wafer down and gave it a go the other night. With only a remote control for protection I rolled off the couch, commando-style, before coming to settle in a hybrid legs-akimbo position. It brought back distant childhood memories before my hamstrings told me that five minutes had elapsed and it was time to assume the regular position back on the sofa.
However, it definitely felt like the future.
Although, uncomfortable at first, starting with short spells and fidgeting into different positions will make it feel easier. But bean-bags are out – that’s cheating.
We now spend so much time sitting in chairs that our hip flexor muscles and our hamstrings tend to shorten – both can be major contributors to the dreaded back pain.
Not a week goes by where we are not reminded of an ageing population and the strain this will put on the already creaking health service. Plastic knees and hips are being compared in golf clubs up and down the land as the new “must have” accessories. This need not be the case – it really is okay to stretch.
As Foster says, joints need to be moved through their full range of motion to maintain their optimal health and getting down to floor level can help us feel more grounded, stable and connected with the world around us.
So the next time you are watching TV, reading the paper, scanning social media or whatever else – try doing it on the floor. Your body will thank you for it.