Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Best Exercise Practice As We Age.

I used to be quite the gym hound.

Nothing felt quite as good as hitting the weights for a tone up and producing a little endorphin high. Then a bit of cardiovascular work to justify the chocolate and I would come out feeling good.
That was then.

Now I have a body that is ageing and such a workout can leave me tired and sore, recovery takes longer than it used to and as I have a physically demanding job, I can't really afford the down time while my body builds and repairs. What little time I can devote to  nurturing my own body has to be as productive and sustaining as possible.

Popular advice given as we age, is that it is important to take care of our bones, and there is no doubt that a workout with weights does that. However when I chat to clients from many disciplines (runners, footballers, judokas, ruggers, boxers, dancers, golfers or gardeners!) we all agree that we feel the most benefit from a good stretch coupled with some big movement exercises that challenge our range.

Ageing isn't an inevitable decline into less power and less movement.  It is an accumulation of injuries, little and large. It is an accumulation of compensations that our clever bodies have made to these injuries.

Compensation is the body's way of surviving. If you can no longer make a movement the conventional way, the body will find a different path to complete the task. If there is too much stress on a structure the body will lay down more bands of tissue as support against damage. If something hurts or isn't working the body will turn that bit 'off' for a while. Unfortunately the body sometimes forgets to turn that system on again!
Examples of such compensations might be:

  • The habit of walking with extra weight on the right leg after breaking the left ankle 
  • An inclination to elevate the shoulder before lifting the arm, after a bout of frozen shoulder
  • A forward head position from years working in front of a PC
  • Shortened hip flexors and a pelvic tilt from all that driving. 

On top of all of these compensations there are poor postural habits. Some of these postural issues will be the result of repetitive movement patterns in a favoured sport or pastime. Some will be due to poor gait and fashion shoes. The body is dealing with strengths and weaknesses all over its structure.

 

Flex, Bend, Stretch and Lengthen

The Fix. 
A good stretch, eases out the overbanding and the scar tissue. It gets fluid into the far away spots in the joint and tissue, nourishing everything.  It restores a good range of motion and, if coupled with some challenging full body movements, it reactivates lost pathways and gets the system running again.

By good stretch I mean holding the position for around 2 minutes, it takes that long for the fascia to react. A few seconds will only temporarily stretch out the muscle. A good stretch is not your favourite stretch that you are good at, it is the nasty one you hate.

My stretch and move class in Edinburgh is at MES Sports centre on Tuesday or Room to Move on Wednesday evenings. But there are many places offering good workouts. If you don't feel the benefit immediately then it isn't doing the trick!

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