According to folklore, Santa Claus is a jolly old man who delivers gifts during the holiday season. A new study in the journal Gait and Posture raises concern regarding the well-being of a busy Santa after analyzing his risk of falls during holiday deliveries.
Santa is widely accepted as over the age of 65, so he faces a heightened risk of falls during his nighttime journey, navigating the dark, icy conditions of frozen rooftops and chimneys. Heavy items, like a bag of presents, further jeopardizes his safety.
The study analyzed the neuromuscular performance of 17 young "Santas" by gathering data on standing balance and gait, both with and without costumes, while they carried 20 kg (44 pound) bags. The Santa stand-ins were also asked to perform "cognitive interference tasks," like spelling reindeer names, while standing and walking.
Researchers bear grim tidings for Santa. The study found that wearing a full Santa costume and carrying 20 kg bags of presents led to postural instability and an uneven gait, indicating a higher risk of falls. Adding cognitive tasks, like recalling lists of items, made the risk of falling even higher. When asked to recall reindeer names, these young Santas (on average age of 30 years old) walked more slowly and irregularly.
This is particularly concerning for the much older Santa, who might be checking his list of deliveries or figuring out who is naughty and nice. Multitasking while walking is known to take a greater toll on seniors and lead to an higher risk of falls. Furthermore, stress and sudden emotions can make cause falls in older adults.
While most of us aren't too worried about Santa, this study has a few take-away points, especially if you find yourself stressed or rushed during the holidays:
1. Older adults should be aware of an increased risk of falls in general, which is worsened when stressed, multi-tasking, or emotionally overwhelmed.
2. Regardless of age, limit how much you carry to reduce the risk of falling. Consider carrying less than 20 kg (44 pounds), especially if you're wearing bulky clothes. Maybe you're not wearing a Santa costume, but heavy winter coats can be equally burdensome.
3. Focus on one task at a time, especially while walking, driving, or feeling stressed. Multi-tasking, such as recalling grocery lists or errands, can cause us to walk more slowly and irregularly, posing coordination and safety risks.
4. Try yoga to improve balance and reduce your risk of falls.
The good news is that yoga, tai chi, and strength training have all been shown to improve balance, gait, and capacity to carry weight-- all of which lower the risk of falling. Yoga also helps with body awareness by improving proprioception, a sensory skill of being in tune with the position of your body. Studies of yoga in seniors have found that yoga improves balance and mobility and reduces fear of falling and stress.
Let's hope Santa has been doing Sun Salutations and Tree poses in preparation for this holiday season.
Wishing you a warm and happy holiday.