When we are younger the question “when did you lose it” provokes a completely different response than later in life. As grandchildren enter our life, or as we finally find time to get back to the activities we were always meaning to resume, we are struck by the change in our physicality. Suddenly and without warning we are no longer able to:
- Get off the floor
- Go jogging
- Run for the bus
- Walk an hour on the beach
- Stand in the mosh pit with our kids at the concert
As we reflect on these changes we may also notice that other things have changed. We’re stiff when we get up in the morning – even when we haven’t worked out the day before. Its hard to straighten-up when we get out of a chair. We find it easier to walk with our hands behind our back. We avoid cocktail parties because the alcohol is insufficient to off-set our back pain.
Should you accept physical aging?
If you mention these changes to your health practitioner, they often bring up the “A” word. When faced with the Age pejorative some give in and accept their fate. Others rail against it, sometimes creating injuries as they are unable to accept the changes in their body.
There is no doubt that physicality changes as we age, however there are some changes we should never accept. Keeping or restoring these physical abilities will not only help your quality of life, but many of these activities are predictors of longevity and independence. Here’s what the research is telling us:
Can you still get off the floor?
I prefer my clients do their exercises on the floor, not only because of the firmer surface, but also because I want them to be able to get off the floor for the rest of their life. Researchers have realized that this basic physical ability is a predictor of longevity. We now know that whether you can get yourself off the floor, and the technique you use, is predictive of how long you will live.
When analyzed it becomes apparent why this simple movement would be so predictive.
- Falls are one of the most common problems as we age. Not only do we want to prevent falls we also need to be able to get off the floor when it happens.
- Getting off the floor requires balance, flexibility and strength. All these elements come together in this basic movement, making it a quick screen to determine your overall physical health.
If you are playing on the ground with your grandchildren or can manage your exercises on the floor, then keep this up. If you struggle to get off the ground and avoid picking anything up off the ground, it’s time to have your physiotherapist or kinesiologist assess the barriers and develop a program to restore this important life skill.
I may have given up any dreams of Wimbledon, but the one physical expectation I will never give up is staying independent. Anyone who has worked with me knows that I am obsessed with posture. A few years ago, a study out of Japan gave me even more reason to maintain my obsession. It looked at the predictors of independence. Over a 20+ year period it analyzed which physical measures were predictive of whether you would need to go to a nursing home and require help with everyday activities such as dressing. It concluded that one of the key factors predicting the need for assistance was your posture. In a nut shell, if you cannot stand up straight, with your spine directly over your pelvis, you are more likely to need help as you age.
You may have nagged at your teenagers to stand up straight, but it’s now time for your children to nag you. Ask them what they have noticed. Do you stand tall or are you bent forward when you walk? If you find it difficult to stand up straight, working on your flexibility and core strength should be on your list of exercises for the long term.
How low should you go?
In my youth the buzz was about Sebastian Coe breaking the 4-minute mile. The headlines around the world read “How low can he go”? Usain Bolt and Andre De Grasse have taken over the headlines but the message remains the same. Many of us have been brought up with the belief that faster is better however we now know that there is a range of speed which is ideal. Throughout our lifetime we should target our running, and then our walking, for between 3.5 and 4.5 mph. If you are metric it’s an 8-11 minute kilometer.
These numbers should guide us, our children and our grandchildren on doing enough, but not too much. Whether it is speed or strength there is an optimum demand – do more and you cause injury, do less and you might as well eat bonbons by the pool.
As we age, many people find they can’t walk. The wear and tear on our spine has resulted in overgrowth of bone. Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) gets in the way of our retirement. Instead of taking cruises and exploring the ports we take the bus tours or stay onboard – professing we prefer to read or play cards when the reality is that it hurts to walk.
Maintaining your spinal health is paramount to enjoying an active retirement. Target 8-10,000 steps per day but also time your walk. Your goal is to manage 3 km in 30-33 minutes every day. If that causes back pain, leg heaviness or other symptoms then seek advice from your spine therapist.
Find me a chair!
Many of my clients hurt when they stand or walk slowly. They avoid shopping, limit visiting art galleries and decline invitations to cocktail parties. As it gets worse even standing to cook causes pain. Often attributed to aging this change in physicality is more likely due to poor back posture, tight hip flexors and weak hip muscles.
A protruding belly is often a marker that we have a sway back. Many of my clients think they need to lose weight when a simple adjustment in their posture will not only relieve the pain in their back but it also looks better! If you can’t stand for an hour consider seeing your spine therapist for an assessment of how to change your posture.
When did you lose it?
Although ageing is inevitable, the changes of physicality are not. The one system that is not affected by age is our muscles. Research is showing that we can build strength into our 80’s, and that limiter is only because we have yet to study the 90 year olds. If you are over 50, the only physical restriction on my list that you should consider accepting is jogging. None of the other losses in physicality need to be attributed to age.
To quote one of my colleagues, Dr. Adonis Makris, D.C. , you not only need a financial plan, you also need a physical plan to stay healthy and active. Although it’s best to start this plan by age 60, even if you are older an exercise program can help to restore much of what you have lost. If you need help with your physical plan our physiotherapists, chiropractor, massage therapists and therapeutic fitness team can help to target your program to change the dialogue around “when did you lose it?”