Can Parkour Prevent Falls if You're Over 65?

This is a guest post from Nancy Lorentz. All views are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of Zibrio. You should take the advice of your doctor before trying any new exercise.

What is Parkour anyway?

Many people know parkour from American Ninja Warrior, action films, or that hilarious episode of ”The Office.” But to truly understand parkour, one must look beyond the Hollywood hype. Parkour is a training discipline using movement that is rooted in military obstacle course training. Once thought to be a sport for young, ultra-fit men, it is finally being recognized as an exciting practice that can bring strength, flexibility, and balance to people of all ages and abilities. PK Move, a parkour non-profit in the DC Metro area, has developed a fun parkour-based fitness and falls prevention program for adults over 50 called PK Silver.

Rich Brune, 71, of Alexandria, VA has been practicing parkour in a PK Silver class for several years. He remarks:

“I wanted to do this because my doctor recommended I get balance training and extra exercise. Being a gentleman ‘of age,’ I need to get out and move my muscles or I’m going to vegetate! I like it because it’s an older crowd so you’re not intimidated by the bodybuilders or the fashionistas. It’s just in social group all having fun together once a week.”

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Risk of Falls and Rewards of Parkour

There is a serious falls epidemic in the United States, with 1 in 4 adults over 65 falling every year. Falls are the leading cause of accidental death among people age 65 and older, with 27,000 seniors losing their lives annually. The risk factors for falls can be divided into three categories:

  • Biological (examples: mobility difficulties due to muscle weakness, balance issues)

  • Behavioral (examples: inactivity, polypharmacy, alcohol)

  • Environmental (examples: home hazards such as clutter, poor lighting, slippery floors)

The good news is falls are NOT a normal part of aging and we already know that up  to 42% of falls can be prevented by well-designed exercise program… and parkour, a newcomer to the falls prevention effort, can offer new, unique rewards. Parkour is of the few sports that trains as a specific, core technique how to land safely, get back up, and keep moving. This is important because 47% of all falls the elderly experience do not result in an injury, yet they cannot get up.


Research Confirms the Benefits of Parkour

A 2018 Marymount University study of one specific parkour program for seniors, PK Silver, was revealed to be beneficial and safe, improving leg strength, flexibility, and balance  – and these are all important components in the risk of falls.

There are keys aspects of parkour and how they directly respond to risks of falling in ways that other programs do not.

  • Parkour decreases biological fall risks by improving  mobility and balance, and strengthening muscles. It also teaches new patterns of movement and muscle memory.

  • Fear is a major behavioral fall risk. Inactivity finds its what into seniors’ lives due to fear. They self-limit physical activities out of fear of falling, which actually makes them more susceptible to falling . Parkour safely explores limits and pushes through them by building confidence in their capabilities.

  • Parkour can be practiced alone or with others, anywhere, inside or out, with no special equipment needed. Before parkour techniques are practiced, even at home, surfaces and stability of obstacles are tested first for safety. In this way, environmental falls risks are addressed.

Parkour Training: How Do I Start?

If you’re an older adult who is physically active without any health concerns or balance issues, and you want to try parkour, you will likely be able to stroll into any parkour gym and find a suitable class. However, if you have not been physically active for a while, check with your doctor and then look for a PK Silver class. If PK Silver is not yet available in your area, but a parkour gym is, look for the following qualifications in your parkour coach:

  • Certifications: Your coach will undoubtably hold a parkour or natural movement certification, but more importantly they should have a NCCA-Accredited Fitness Certification (NASM, ACSM, AFAA, ACE are examples) with specialization in coaching older adults. You may even hit the jackpot and find a parkour coach who is also a physical therapist or has a degree in exercise science or kinesiology.

  • If the coach doesn’t have a current CPR/First Aid/AED certification, walk away.

  • Recommendations/Endorsements: Find a coach that is recommended by a friend who has already taken the class. Look for endorsements by trusted national or local senior organizations. Your parkour coach should have previous experience coaching older adults.

  • You can tell a lot about a gym’s culture and experience by looking at their website.

Popular culture paints parkour as roof top jumps and backflips, but there is much more to it. Parkour techniques are based on simple functional movements that are easy to learn by people of all ages and abilities. Parkour, when coached by senior fitness professionals, has great potential as an innovative and fun falls prevention program.

About the Author

Executive Director and Co-Founder of PK Move, Nancy Lorentz and her team are leading the effort to establish parkour as falls prevention through evidence-based programming. Lorentz holds a Masters in Education as well as various fitness certifications, and has practiced parkour since 2011. PK Silver was developed five years ago by senior fitness professionals at PK Move. It has been featured in IDEA Fitness Magazine, the Washington Post and a recent Vice News video. Currently offered in the DC Metro Area, PK Silver is set to expand across the country in 2020.