Most of us, over the years, have become pretty set in our movement patterns.
We simply move the way we do out of habit. We lean forward most of the day as we sit at our desks and at our computer screens. Our heads are looking down for hours at a time as we look at and text on our phones. We walk forward (it’s the rare individual walking in reverse!). We don’t often lean backwards or twist our torsos. And unless we are dancing on a regular basis, I doubt we move side to side or twirl around. These are all movements our bodies are designed to do. But as we age, we do less and less of them. Eventually, our bodies lose their ability to perform these movements.
But the good news is that we can regain much of what we lose and can sustain better movement with less aches and pains as we get older. Here are four fitness tips to help you make that happen!
If you have any questions on how to incorporate these four tips into your fitness program, please contact me (630-653-8152 or pstrand@strandfitnessLLC.com). My team and I stand ready to help you learn more about these important fitness factors and how to make them part of your fitness journey.
Tip #1: Prioritize mobility of your joints
As I head toward my 60’s, I am surprised that my joints are so stiff. I stay active. But sometimes I do wonder if it is too active for my joints, but I know less activity isn’t the answer either. I have come to the conclusion that it is important to add some different activity to my day – Joint mobility work.
What is joint mobility? – thanks for asking! It is your ability to freely and easily move your joints through their natural range of motion. Joint mobility exercises help sustain the movement in our joints by working each joint (yep, fingers to toes) with deliberate and gentle movement. For example, moving your arms in big circles is a great exercise for shoulder mobility. Drawing the alphabet with your feet (a favorite of one of our personal trainers) helps with ankle mobility. And a popular yoga move called “Cat/Cow” is great for spinal mobility.
The range of motion in your joints comes mainly from strength, stabilization, and flexibility. It is not enough for just the major muscles to be strong and supple. It is also necessary to focus on building strength and flexibility in the smaller muscles supporting the body’s joints. Ask anyone who has had shoulder injuries, and they will tell you the importance of maintaining strength, stability, and flexibility in the rotator cuff muscles.
If you are working with a personal trainer, ask them how to address joint mobility, particularly for any joints that feel stiff and restricted. And golfers, be sure to incorporate spinal mobility in your fitness program. Your back will be happy if you do!
Tip #2: A little bit of stretching each day goes a long way
Flexibility refers to the length and elasticity of your muscles. Flexibility muscles promote joint mobility and ease of movement.
Stretching is a great way to enhance your flexibility. A great book to learn about stretching is Stretching by Bob Anderson on your own. Personal trainers and fitness instructors are also helpful resources. And taking a yoga or stretching class is another way to incorporate stretching into your fitness program.
At Strand Fitness, we help our clients gain flexibility in their personal training sessions with stretches and yoga moves. We also offer “facilitated” stretching sessions with Active Isolated Stretching (AIS). Our AIS practitioner gently moves your joints through a series of stretches, which helps alleviate common aches and pains that come from stiff muscles.
In addition to any stretching you do with a personal trainer or in a yoga class, I recommend identifying some simple stretches you can do each day and then making the series a part of your everyday habits – just like brushing your teeth.
Tip#3: It’s not just athletes who need to address agility
Agility is best known in athletic training. Yes, agility is key to athletes who need to change directions very quickly. Football players, soccer players, and basketball players are examples of athletes who do regular agility drills. A common picture is a group of football players “running” through a series of tires or doing “high knees” down an agility ladder. Before you exclaim that at your age you are not going to be trying out for an NFL team, hear me out.
Agility is the ability to move your limbs (and therefore body) quickly. It is about reflexes combined with strength, flexibility, and mobility. We lose agility as we age, but we can regain and sustain agility in ways that are important for our everyday lives.
If we have core strength and have trained our feet to move quickly, we are likely to prevent falls when we trip. I call it “fast feet” when I ask my personal training clients to move their feet and arms quickly as they move through an agility ladder or when standing in place. This is an important exercise for people who run and walk outdoors on trails and uneven surfaces like sidewalks and golf courses. If we train our limbs to move quickly, we also lessen the chance of pulling something when we move a part of our body fast (intentionally or not).
Tip #4: Balance and coordination training is fun and worthwhile! Try it, you may like it! (Or not!)
Standing on one leg while you brush your teeth is an easy way to work on your balance and coordination. Walking heel-to-toe across the room is another way. As a personal trainer, some of the most fun I have with clients is coming up with balance and coordination exercises. I could be wrong, I think they have fun too. It is a little like having a “bag of tricks” to show people what you can do!
But sometimes working on balance and coordination are frustrating. I know it is for me, because sometimes I just can’t do the movements – even simple ones – my brain and body aren’t cooperating. I always thought I was pretty able in this area, until I spent a lengthy time away from yoga and swimming.
While I was still lifting weights and working out on cardio equipment at the fitness studio, I lost a significant amount of my balance and coordination when I stopped swimming and going to yoga class. I was strong and had a lot of cardiovascular capacity, but I couldn’t stand on one foot for very long. And I lost a great deal of ability to rotate and move in different directions. That is until I started practicing yoga again and going to a fitness class where mobility and balance are key components. It has been my own (very unintentional) experiment on losing and then regaining my balance and coordination.
The neuromuscular signals that control and regulate our balance and coordination weaken as we age. But with some diligence on our part, we can reverse the process and regain much of what we lose. Moving your body in different directions (e.g. forwards, backwards, sideways), twisting, and exercising on unstable surfaces (or in water when swimming) are excellent examples of ways to regain balance and coordination. And be sure to ask your personal trainer to make sure you are performing exercises that have your arms and legs moving in opposite directions and across the midline of your body.
Just because we have more experience with the calendar, it doesn’t mean we have to feel old.
Incorporating these four fitness tips into your fitness program will help you reverse the aging process and help your body “move young!”
At Strand Fitness, we specialize in fitness for the “slightly older” body. Our programs are designed to help you build a strong, healthy, and able body! With a complimentary, no-obligation fitness consultation, we’ll put a plan together and get you started on your fitness journey. Please contact me (email@example.com or 630-653-8152).
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Remember – only exercise (or do the exercises suggested in this blog) if your doctor says it is safe to do so!