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MailTribune.com
  • Keep moving, stay young

    Moving and stretching joints is key to mobility
  • You probably sit and stand numerous times a day — just as you probably bend and straighten your arms while eating or reaching for something. But how often do you deliberately bend and straighten your arms and legs? For that matter, how often do you move all your body's joints: neck, shoulders, wrists, back, hips and ankles?
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  • You probably sit and stand numerous times a day — just as you probably bend and straighten your arms while eating or reaching for something. But how often do you deliberately bend and straighten your arms and legs? For that matter, how often do you move all your body's joints: neck, shoulders, wrists, back, hips and ankles?
    Do you just flop into a seat, then use your hands to push yourself back upright again? Do you reach for something by turning your upper body slightly sideways, instead of extending your whole arm out? If so, you'll be old way before your time.
    When my mother was in her 60s, she tripped and fell on a sidewalk, slightly tearing her rotator cuff. Her doctor said it didn't need surgery, but she did need physical therapy. Afterward, she was advised to continue daily movement and stretching of the injured tissues. But doing rehabilitation on a sprained or torn rotator cuff hurts, and my nonathletic mother ignored the doctor's advice.
    Within a year, she had what's known as a "frozen shoulder." The tissues that were never moved or stretched had contracted, making it at first difficult, then impossible, to move her upper arm more than a few inches. She was no longer able to do the crafts she loved so much — pottery and sculpting.
    Even without an injury, those over 50 often get into the same kind of situation. They become sedentary because it gets hard for them to move around in an active way. It gets blamed on age, but it's NOT age. It's plain old atrophy — joints that have stiffened from lack of use.
    When joints aren't moved around in a full range of motion, the ligaments that connect the bones to each other, as well as the tendons that connect the muscles to the bones, will contract, or shrink. The range of motion also shrinks. Perhaps you were once able to reach up to a cupboard shelf to grab something, but now you can't reach that far. You have to stand on tiptoe, or you have to use a stepstool. This "shrinkage" is not always due to age (though we DO tend to get shorter as we get older).
    The problem is that once connective tissues contract, it's hard to stretch them out again. Though it CAN be done, most people give up. But if you don't give up and you keep working at stretching out the tissues, the tissue fibers will regain their elasticity.
    For example, a few years ago, I realized I could no longer reach down and touch my toes without bending my knees. I couldn't even reach down to the middle of my shinbone. For a boomer living an active lifestyle, that was almost a sure-fire guarantee of future injury.
    I began doing hamstring stretches every evening before getting into bed. At first, the stretching was quite painful. It took months to stop hurting when I stretched. It took EIGHT months to finally be able to touch my toes. Realizing how stiff my hips were, I began adding knee lifts — lifting each knee and moving it out to the side — and also moving my knee backward. My walk, and all movement, became much more youthful and agile.
    For those boomer age and beyond, it's a good lesson. Spend 10 minutes a day moving and stretching your leg, shoulder and arm joints. Bend from side to side to stretch your torso. Move your head around to stretch the tissues of your neck.
    Your body will, of course, get older as time goes by, but it won't age nearly as fast if you keep the joints stretched and moving.
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