As we age, we change how we move. Our mobility is the strongest indicator of our real age. A recent study correlated one's ability to sit and rise from the floor to mortality so it is important to maintain our mobility and ease of movement.
As infants and children, we learned to move -- to reach, crawl, walk, jump, climb -- in an exploratory fashion, twisting around as we interact with our environment. We spot our parents or a toy we want and need to figure out how to get to them. We rock on our bottoms, shift this way or that and even fall backward as we learn how to navigate the space around us. Once we learn how to move, most of us stop the exploratory learning that got us moving and lock ourselves into habits of movement.
As we age and start to encounter some limitations on our mobility, it is crucial to return to moving like a child and learning in this exploratory, nonlinear fashion. We don't need to avoid linear movement like the ones we often perform at the gym -- in fact, many common daily activities are linear movements -- but in order to expand the range and repertoire of our movements and feel real pleasure and sensuality in our movements, it is extremely valuable to practice nonlinear and exploratory movements.
My four decades as a movement specialist, studying biology, dance, psychology, movement sciences, and the Feldenkrais Method as well as teaching thousands of students around the world, have taught me how to observe my clients' bodies to understand their movement habits and abilities -- their strengths and weaknesses, their pains and pleasures.
Pain, stiffness, fatigue -- these are issues that affect us all as we age. But if we reframe how we look at pain, stiffness and fatigue, we can come to understand them as the result of ineffective movement habits.
In this column, I hope to help you move with greater ease, reduce some pain, and, most importantly over time, help you prevent the pains of the future.
Habits that make us look old and tips to avoid them
For example, do you have difficulty climbing up and down stairs?
I observe many students who might lean heavily on a banister or uncomfortably shift their weight from leg to leg. To me, this is a clue that stairs can be a challenge for these individuals.
Tackling the stairs is an unavoidable part of many of our lives. Experiencing pain in our hips and knees can limit us by restricting our activities to avoid a flight of stairs or by spoiling our mood when we have no choice but to negotiate some stairs.
As we age, both our hips and knees tend to stay slightly bent, limiting the length of our stride. This can, of course, interfere with our ability to climb up and down stairs. We must be able to extend our hip backward and straighten our knees if we are to have the full use of the upright gait that has evolved in humans.
So, could you bend your knees more than you are used to and then straighten them? Be sure to look out at the horizon as you bend and straighten your knees slowly several times. Now, do it quickly, as if you were about to jump. If your heels leave the floor when you come up, that's good. Do the same movement, pushing harder through one leg and then the other, until you push more quickly and bend more quickly through either leg.
Practicing bending and extending your knees as if you were going to jump will help you climb your stairs and increase the length of your stride.
Go for a walk up the stairs and see for yourself. When walking, notice if there is more of a youthful bounce in your step.
Do you find yourself pushing off with your hands to get out of a chair?
Pushing off with your hands to get out of a chair instead of using your leg muscles is an example of a lack of ease in moving from one position to another, such as going from sitting to standing and vice versa.
Moving from sitting to standing is only part of a full range of movement that allows you to go from squatting to standing and jumping. Sit in the middle of your chair and push your pelvis forward and back on your chair without using your hands. Then, before you stand up, think that you're going to jump. Don't actually jump -- just feel the act of standing from a chair on the way to jumping. It should be a feeling of lightening the load.
Frank Wildman is the creator of a program specifically for baby boomers called Change Your Age. The program is available as a book, a series of DVDs, and courses and weekend workshops spread around the country. To help guide people into a movement program that could put more life in your years, Dr. Wildman developed a Mobility Survey where you can find out your real mobility years, which might be functionally quite different from your actual age. You may be surprised!
Most people function in an easier, more fluid manner or in a more tense, stressful and limited manner than their actual age. Get a sense from the Mobility Survey what your Mobility Age is and then consider participating in some way in the Change Your Age program, where you can learn how to move more easily and more youthfully.