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IU Health & Wellness

Research and insights from Indiana University


Jan. 13, 2011

IU Health and Wellness for January discusses the following topics:

Avoiding falls on the ice and snow
When the temptation to bet is too much: Betting on major sporting events
Does winter make you SAD?

If you're going to fall, fall like a snowflake. Avoiding falls on the ice and snow involves some "mental preparation" in addition to some "purposeful movement," says Michelle Miller, an exercise physiologist at Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, and an American College of Sports Medicine-certified exercise specialist. Miller has designed popular 14-week balance courses and is involved in balance-related research. Falling in the ice and snow is not just a concern for the elderly, she notes. "Realistically, it's an issue for people big and small, and young and old simply because our bodies attempt to react to the unexpected," she said.

Here are some of her suggestions:

  • "A big key is being aware of your surroundings," Miller said. "We all need to learn to plan some of our movements." Choosing to walk directly in the snow, for example, might provide better traction than walking on an icy sidewalk. When people park cars, they need to consider before they park what the surface area is like between the parking space and where they're going. Does it have ice, snow, standing water? Will they be stepping up and down or over curbs or other obstacles in their path? "With dim lighting, we don't see these things well, and they can be slick."
  • Many people end up breaking bones or getting more severely injured because they attempt to break their falls. "I tell people, if you're going to fall, you need to just let the body relax, be a snowflake and float lightly to the ground," Miller said. This could leave someone wet and embarrassed but possibly less injured.
  • Footwear also is important. "Do your shoes hug and grab the ground surface or make you a human sled," asked Miller. Flat hard soles might be more slippery and should be avoided in lieu of softer-soled footwear or shoes and boots with divots in the soles.
  • Practice "conscious" movement. Slow down, take shorter steps when necessary, make sure feet are planted and really focus on efficient body movements and the obstacles in the path. "It's not a time for sightseeing."
  • Consider using walking sticks, which are available at sporting goods stores and big box stores. If someone holds their arm down and bends their elbow at a 90-degree angle, their hand should rest on the handle of the stick.
  • Look for things to hold onto that are sturdy and can help rather than hinder, such as railings and banisters.
  • If someone is nervous or uncomfortable about going outside or running errands in the snow, they should consider asking someone to accompany or assist them or possibly postponing the trip.
  • Consider many of these issues when indoors, too. Look for water on the floor, consider changing shoes when indoors, look for solid support and "plan, plan, plan as you move, turn and step over," Miller said, "so you don't run the risk of falling over."

Miller says balance classes can be very helpful but she suggests checking on the instructors' qualifications first. Effective classes address cognitive elements as well as physical components. She said instructors need to have a good understanding of muscle strength and endurance, proprioception, sensory systems and posture.

Miller can be reached at 812-855-8167 and Top

Sports Gambling

When the temptation to bet is too much. What do Super Bowl Sunday and March Madness have in common? It is a time when many people participate in sports gambling through office pools and bracket selections. While most people who gamble -- legally or illegally -- do not become problem gamblers, an estimated 3-4 percent of those who begin gambling will develop into problem gamblers. "For persons who are problem gamblers Super Bowl Sunday presents a problem similar to that of New Year's Eve for alcoholics, the opportunity to engage in the behavior is everywhere and it seems everyone is doing it at the same time," said Mary Lay, project manager of the Indiana Problem Gambling Awareness Program, which is part of the Indiana Prevention Resource Center in Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Problem gambling can lead to financial devastation, crime and poor physical and mental health, including an increased risk of substance abuse, depression and suicide. It is characterized by the following:

  • Gambling for long hours or with more money than intended
  • Lying to friends and family about gambling
  • Borrowing money frequently to gamble
  • Missing work or school due to preoccupation with gambling
  • Wins and losses create mood swings
  • Gambling to escape life's hassles and stressors
  • Arguing with family and friends about your gambling
  • Using money intended for bills and other things to pay gambling debts
  • Increasing gambling to try to win back money lost.

If a gambler or their loved ones suspect a problem, the first step should be to call the Indiana Problem Gambling Help Line at 800-994-8448. For additional resources, visit the Indiana Problem Gambling Awareness Program at

Lay said it is not legal to gamble on College Basketball, but in Nevada it is legal to bet on the Super Bowl. It is estimated in 2010 that almost $83 million was legally bet on the Super Bowl. According to the American Gaming Association this accounts only about 1.5 percent of the total bet on the game and the events surrounding the game. The Super Bowl is the largest single day of gambling in the year. It is watched by almost 98 million Americans. Almost all states have had some form of legal gambling in the past 20 years; Indiana has riverboat casinos, lottery, charitable gaming and racinos, which are a combined race track and casino. Sports betting is illegal in almost all states including Indiana. It is not necessary to visit a casino or buy a lottery ticket to gamble, especially on the Super Bowl or other sports. Lay said many people who do not gamble the rest of the year will gamble on the Super Bowl, saying to themselves, "I will place a bet just to make it interesting." The wagers will be made with friends, co-workers or even bookies. "People bet on everything from which team will have someone arrested before the game to who will win," Lay said. "For most this is not a problem, but for a problem gambler this is a time of temptation and stress."

Lay can be reached at and 812-856-4885. Top


Does winter make you SAD? The theory for Seasonal Affective Disorder started in the 1980s -- and it continues to be just a theory. However, Alan Schmetzer, M.D., professor emeritus of psychiatry for the Indiana University School of Medicine, said that for him, SAD has proven to be a real disorder. "It has stood the test of time for the last 30 years," Schmetzer said. As the Earth rotates around the sun, the amount of sunlight decreases -- nighttime lengthens and daylight decreases. For people who suffer from SAD, the winter and fall months can be brutal. SAD is a subtype of major depression, Schmetzer said, which means the same symptoms of depression such as social withdrawal and lack of interest still apply. For example, Finland experiences longer winters and 10 percent of the population are estimated to suffer from SAD, while nearly 2 percent of the U.S. population suffers from SAD, Schmetzer said. Schmetzer said it is possible that almost 6 percent of the U.S. population are affected by SAD.

Do you possibly suffer from SAD? Schmetzer offers these tips on how to ward off its side effects:

  • Stay on the move. "Stay as physically active as possible," Schmetzer said. Even just walking can ward off depression, he said.
  • See a doctor. If you are experiencing depression, Schmetzer suggests asking a physician about anti-depressants.
  • Soak up the sun (or pseudo sunlight). "Be in as much sunlight possible," Schmetzer said. Schmetzer suggests the alternative of a lamp designed for SAD treatment which is powered for at least 350 watts (5,000 to 10,000 lux) and filtered to remove as much ultraviolet light as possible. Plan to sit within 12 to 15 inches of it for 30 to 60 minutes a day.

Schmetzer can be reached at 317-274-7423 and Top

For additional assistance, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 and