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ARU judo expert is helping older adults fall safely

Published: 14 May 2024 at 14:00

Dr Katrina McDonald

Dr Katrina McDonald helps develop British Judo’s Finding Your Feet programme

An Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) academic is behind a new project aimed at reducing the number of fall-related hospital admissions in the UK – by using judo!

Dr Katrina McDonald, pictured, has helped develop the new Finding Your Feet programme alongside Professor Mike Callan of the University of Hertfordshire. The programme, which is being launched by British Judo, aims to teach older adults how to fall safely.

The nationwide programme will see qualified judo coaches teach older adults exercises to improve balance, strength and safe falling techniques based on the principles of judo. These exercises aim to reduce the fear of falling and minimise the risk of injury from a fall. 

In England there are currently around 210,000 fall-related hospital admissions amongst the over-65s every year, while figures from the NHS show that one in three adults over 65 and half of those over 80 will have at least one fall a year.

Fragility fractures – which can occur from falling – also cost the UK an estimated £4.4 billion a year, according to the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID).

To address the problem, the new Finding Your Feet sessions will teach older adults – and the wider public – how to keep their balance, fall safely and get up easily.

The sessions will touch on up to 18 different judo techniques that have been adapted for this specific population, including yoko ukemi, which is a sideways fall that teaches the three principles of falling, which include protecting the head, creating a large surface area and the timing and rolling element.

Other key techniques will include learning how to tuck the chin in when falling backwards, how to fall forward safely without using hands, and rolling techniques to get up safely.

Dr Katrina McDonald from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), who is also a judo coach herself, helped to write the Finding Your Feet programme for British Judo.

Dr McDonald, Senior Lecturer in Sports Coaching at ARU, said:

“There is a vicious circle associated with falling that the Finding Your Feet programme is aiming to break. When an individual has a fall they are scared of it happening again and so they limit their activity, but this in turn weakens their muscles and balance which, over time, can increase the risk of another fall.

“A key way of mitigating a fear of falling is by giving older people – and the wider public – the tools and knowledge to be able to fall in a way that lowers the risk of injury, and, in turn, boosts their confidence to be able to become more active.

“While the programme is in its early stages it has great potential to make a meaningful difference not just to older adults, but the whole of society, and I am looking forward to seeing it gain momentum.”

Professor Mike Callan of the University of Hertfordshire is a member of the International Judo Federation Scientific Committee and is leading the global roll out of safer falling for older adults through judo. 

Professor Callan said:

“Judo coaches have a valuable skill set as they understand the key principles of falling safely. 

“By teaching these techniques to older adults, judo can make a significant contribution to a particular problem for society.”

A series of “train the trainer” sessions are being rolled out to judo coaches, ready for the sessions to be delivered to the general public in the second half of 2024.

Nick Shepherd, Lead Club Support Officer at British Judo, is one of the tutors delivering the “train the trainer” sessions. He said:

“The Finding Your Feet programme epitomises what judo is all about – it is a sport for everyone which strives to have a positive impact on people’s everyday lives.

“While the sessions have been adapted to help improve older people’s confidence with falling, we are encouraging anyone who has a fear of falling to register their interest with us for one of the sessions later in the year.”

For more information about Finding Your Feet, visit www.britishjudo.org.uk/british-judo-launch-finding-your-feet-coach-education-workshops