08/16/2012 05:48 pm ET Updated Oct 16, 2012

The Daily Balancing Act

There's a book, and possibly an entire set of encyclopedias, waiting to be written about all the different ways you can accidentally slip or stumble or otherwise lose your balance and fall violently into a world of hurt.

I'm not sure where balance goes when it gets lost, but there's no time to ponder that question when you see the ground turning sideways and realize that a sudden, unpleasant impact is imminent.

Fortunately for me, life so far hasn't included any serious tumbles and I'm trying to keep that record intact. The priority I focus on during most waking hours is maintaining the safety of my skull and the brain contained within it. I think a huge percentage of Americans can recite stories about friends or relatives who fell, bashed their heads, and either died or "were never the same again."

There are plenty ways to increase your cranial safety factor. One simple option would be to wear a helmet all the time. I seriously doubt this idea will catch on anytime soon unless someone can make it into a hot fashion trend. I'll leave that task to the producers of Project Runway.

Even with a helmet in place there would still be large areas of your anatomy left unprotected. This is why I focus most of my thinking on prevention. All those platitudes you heard growing up such as 'haste makes waste' and 'slowly but surely' do, in fact, have a direct bearing on your life any time you're navigating along a badly cracked sidewalk or descending a flight of stairs.

When I talk with people who have been injured by falling a common refrain is "what I shouldn't have done," as they made the hard landing. Putting out your hands is a natural reaction if you're facing forward. I know a woman who did that when she tripped on her front porch steps and hurtled onto the concrete walkway at the bottom. She hit hands-first and ended up with internal damage to elbows, shoulders, neck and parts of her back.

"The thing is," she told, "if I hadn't put my hands out I probably would have landed on my face." Yes, it can be a no-win situation. Others might disagree with me. These are the know-it-all types who can explain immediately, in every situation, what should have been done to avoid injury once the tumble was in progress.

A common suggestion from these experts is to adjust your position in midair so as to hit the ground on your side or in some other position that will distribute the impact over a wide surface area and not concentrate it on one spot like your hip, or face.

The science of this idea is accurate. The cast members of Cirque de Soliel could probably pull it off. But I seriously doubt that most average Americans can make such bodily adjustments in the miniscule amount of time that elapses during a typical falling experience.

A less spectacular but equally dangerous occurrence is what I call the "loss of traction" fall. This has happened to me twice in the past few years. In both cases I was shopping in supermarkets and encountered small amounts of water on the floor and ended up doing a modified version of "the splits."

What saved me from hitting hard both times was that my shoe maintained a small amount of traction as it slid, so I wasn't in total free-fall mode. I now maintain ultra-vigilant status during grocery excursions. I absolutely, positively do not want to meet my end in the produce aisle.

In addition to watching out for myself, I've also learned the importance of keeping tabs on anyone who comes into my personal space during shopping trips and other errands. There have been times when total strangers lost balance and fell against me, and I'm glad I was able to catch them.

I mentioned to a friend recently and he said, "So you're kind of like a freelance, human airbag." It's one of the nicest compliments I've ever had.