We all know we are living in a time when most people live a sedentary lifestyle. We are sitting too long and not having enough movement in our lives. What we may not know is just how much it can affect the longevity of our lives. In a recent Forbes article, Americans Sit More Than Any Time in History and it is Literally Killing Us, the Mayo Clinic’s analysis of 13 studies concluded that “sitting time and activity levels found in those who sat for more than 8 hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking.”
The truth is, too much sitting can, and will, shorten your life considerably. Here is an odd point that has been made as well. Even though so many people are sitting, their ability to sit down and stand up without the use of their hands is very low. What I mean is, try sitting down in a chair without having to brace yourself with your hands or just falling into the chair. I have seen many people who back up to their chairs and literally fall into the chair with a grunt.
What is even harder is, from a seated position, standing up without using your hands to push up. Try it with a dining room chair which should be the easiest to get out of instead of a soft living room chair. You may have to gradually work up to that level. Over time, a person’s upper body strength may diminish so badly that they cannot even push themselves up due to weak upper body strength. Of course, we have chairs to lift us up into a standing position.
In the same article, Johns Hopkins contends that “Physically active jobs now make up less than 20% of the U.S. workforce, down from roughly half of jobs in 1960.” Taking a walk can be difficult for most people. I was listening to a podcast yesterday, “The Doctor’s Farmacy,” and one of the doctors were saying that a simple test of standing up from a chair, walking 10 feet, turning around, walking back to the chair and sitting down, without using their hands, left most of their patients tired and many just could not do it. What a shame!
When I was Studying Aging Sciences back in 2018, we were told that 67% of adults over 60 could not get up off the floor. There is a popular test that is out now on YouTube that is testing adults for sitting on the floor and then getting back up without their hands. Very few people can do this and many look like they are in good shape. Now to be fair, this requires that the person have good to great hip rotation and flexibility plus good strength in their legs. Balance also plays a role here as you are crossing your feet and pushing up from the outsides of your feet. For now, I would practice just getting up and down out of a chair to begin the exercises.
How Did We Get Here?
Nearly 80% of our jobs today are sedentary. Any manual labor jobs are now done by machinery. Watch workers building houses today–their hammers are not the old style, they are air hammers. We have equipment that lifts things that a group of men used to lift. Few buildings had elevators as most had stairs. We choose to drive a mile to the store versus walking that mile. In other words, we have gotten too comfortable, and it is showing up as poor health for so many older adults. We are confusing the aging process with a poor lifestyle.
As I have spoken of before, our shoes have contributed. As we add more and more padding for comfort, we are atrophying our muscles in our feet and lower legs. The chairs, especially recliners, are causing more and more people to sit longer and even sleep in these chairs.
Some of you can no longer do these things due to bad knees, hips, and back, I get it. Sadly, many of these things could have been prevented if you had been trained to live better and had done what you needed to do to live better. Improving your lifestyle is a team effort, meaning you and the health expert must work together to improve your lifestyle.
I find that it is about choices. I will choose to walk up a flight of stairs versus taking an elevator. I will choose to park farther away from the store versus looking for the closest parking space. I will find ways to improve my cardio system by exerting myself and sweating whenever I can. Now everyone has different limits, so start slowly and build up. If walking across the living room is tough, try walking halfway across.
What Can You Do to Improve Mobility?
There are plenty of little things you can do at any age. Some of my favorites are:
Stand next to a counter, hold onto the countertop and stand on one foot. Slowly let go of the countertop keeping your hands close to the counter in case you lose your balance. While standing on one foot, and not holding onto the counter, count to see how long you can stand on one foot without holding onto the counter. Over time this will improve. If you do this barefoot, you can feel the muscles working in your feet and calves.
Once you have improved well enough from the counter exercise and feel confident, you can graduate to walking on the grout lines if you have tile. I would suggest you do this in a hallway so you can touch the wall if you feel unbalanced. Pick out a grout line and walk one foot in front of the other. Count how many tiles you can walk without touching the wall. Once you can walk the length of the hallway, turn around and walk back the other way. Again, I would suggest doing this barefoot so you can feel the muscles in your feet and lower leg.
Practice standing up from a seated position without your hands. In the beginning, you will need your hands. As you continue to practice, you may find you only need one hand, then no hands. As your thighs get stronger, the ability to stand up without pushing off with your hands will become greater.
You can strengthen your upper body by doing modified push-ups. Place your hands on the edge of the counter with your elbows wide apart. Shift your feet away from the counter to a point you still feel comfortable. As you are facing the counter, slowly lower your body towards the counter. Lower only to a level you feel comfortable, then raise your body back up. Do as many as you can and still feel comfortable. Over time that number will grow so if you can only do one, that is a beginning.
As with any exercises I recommend, please check with your doctor. Let him/her know what movements you will be doing, and get their approval before you try them. If you do these exercises, please be sure to stretch your calves and outside chest muscles as they will be the muscles most used. Let me know how you are doing and how much you can do.
In using my technique, you are allowing the brain to release the muscles versus the brute force that you see in many gyms and physical therapy. It takes practice, but once you get it, and you will, your body will feel more energized and vibrant.
Stretching is more about feeling the muscles letting go than forcing them to stretch. If you are forcing the muscle, you could be doing strength training, not stretching. Make sure you are feeling the intended muscle stretching. If not, the form could be wrong. Holding for 5 seconds allows the brain to release the muscle before it senses any danger. Repeating the stretches 10 times allows the brain to learn it is safe for the muscle to move that way.
Don’t forget the Tennis Ball Massage!
Softening your hips and back is easy when you use the tennis ball. Just lean against the wall and apply enough pressure to feel the painful area. The temptation is to press harder but resist it. Instead, breathe out and allow the muscle to soften under the ball. Then move to another spot and repeat. Continue doing this until most of the painful spots are gone. Check out previous newsletters to see the video.
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About The Muscle Repair Shop
Drawing upon his personal experience as a former competitive athlete turned wheelchair, obese, and chronic pain sufferer, Muscle Repair Shop Founder Butch Phelps decided to take his health into his own hands when at the age of 36 he was told he might not make it to his 40th birthday. Applying balanced nutrition advice from his doctor along with a sound exercise program, he went from 315 lbs. to 180 lbs. Motivated by his experience, he then acquired degrees in advanced therapeutic massage and aging sciences to help people eliminate chronic pain. This included applying his expertise in how people age, including the effects of dementia, anatomy, psychology, and the day-to-day struggles of living as an older person to his practice and development of The Muscle Repair Shop’s one-of-a-kind Stretch n’ Release Technique.
Available through in-office and virtual coaching treatment sessions, this unique combination of stretching and breath work teaches the brain to release the emotional side of muscle tension and pain allowing clients to find lasting relief and healing from stiffness, aches, injuries, and chronic pain. The at-home exercises come with customized instructional videos and virtual or in-office support, allowing clients to enjoy and experience life and sports as they did before limitations slowed or curtailed activities.