Primary ageing is of course inevitable but the rate at which it happens has less to do with actual age and more with how you lead your life. If we start to decline, we need to be honest with ourselves as to why. Our health, quality of life and duration is to a large extent driven by our lifestyle choices, not our age.
I see reaching your fifties as an opportunity to shift your mind-set and celebrate your age, making this decade work for you and enjoying it. It’s not necessarily about living longer but more about maximising your ‘health span’ – the period of life during which you are generally healthy, functional and free from serious disease. This is not a time to slow down but rather a time to pay attention to exercise and the right kind of exercise for your health, mind and body.
I know some of you may be thinking health and functionality is important, but I just want to lose weight or fit in my jeans. I hear you, but I invite you to see midlife as a time to make peace with your body rather than constantly being unhappy with it and fighting to change it. Instead fight for you, learn to love and respect your body, nourish it mindfully but don’t deprive it by pushing too hard or too much. When we learn to drop our negativity about our bodies, we can finally open our eyes and see us. The relationship you have with your body is the best one you can ever have, it’s not your enemy but rather your partner, and by taking care of it, will be your vehicle for life. In fact, when you drop the constant need to be a certain size or shape you remove the stress and start to enjoy the process and guess what, the body naturally starts to change too.
Being able to move well and efficiently is essential to longevity and leading a full and capable life. Having good movement is not only about developing a harmonious interaction between different parts of your body to perform a given task, but also about how your body interacts with the environment, particularly in response to unexpected changes. In other words, good movement requires adaptability and responsiveness to a changing environment. Think about suddenly having to duck down to avoid an object or needing to get on all fours and reach for something you dropped. Life is not robotic and therefore we need to keep ourselves mobile and capable.
We have designed some drills for you that promote mobility by taking muscles, tendons, and joints through their full range of motion with the intent to increase efficiency and quality of motion. They are extremely time efficient and easy to perform. All you need is your body, a little space and 10 minutes of your time. That’s not asking much when the benefits to longevity are extremely significant.
Having tight and restricted hips is an issue many adults experience in our modern world, mainly due to hours of sitting; desk jobs, driving/commuting or remaining in one position for long periods such as sitting on the sofa. All these actions will keep us from experiencing full daily mobility. The hips are the workhorses of our bodies, but when they become restricted, we can lose our strength and power to perform everyday movements efficiently and without pain.
The lunge to pigeon stretch addresses all of the key muscles supporting the hips.
Come into full plank position on your hands and feet. Wrists in line with your shoulders, feet together. Firm your legs, squeeze your butt and engage your abdominals forming one straight line from top to toe.
Step your right foot in line with your left hand creating a long lunge, back leg straight as you can manage. Hover in the position briefly allowing the hips to settle and then push down through both hands and sweep your right leg underneath you into a pigeon stretch. Your right knee is in line with your right hand and right foot is as close to your left hand as you can take it, your chest is lifted. Pause momentarily and then sweep back into the lunge.
Repetitions: 4 times each side and ideally perform again.
After the hips, thoracic spine mobility is probably the most crucial aspect of mobility. The thoracic spine encompasses the chest and shoulder area. It’s actually quite a moveable segment of your spine, allowing flexion, extension and rotation. Although a lot of us don’t realise this simply because we end up slumped over a computer all day causing tightness and shortening of our chest and abdomen muscles resulting in rounding shoulders and exaggerating our natural curve of the T-spine. When we add thoracic spine mobility, we start to eliminate the hunch back (kyphosis) and can press our arms over our head without pain.
Come into a full plank position on your hands and feet. Wrists in line with your shoulders, feet together. Firm your legs, squeeze your butt and engage your abdominals forming one straight line from top to toe.
Step your right foot in line with your left hand creating a long lunge, back leg as straight as you can manage. Reach your right hand underneath your left arm pit increasing the stretch around the hip, you may feel this in your inner thigh muscles as well as your shoulder. From here return the arm and sweep right hand up to the sky as you rotate your chest open, gaze to the right hand. Really focus on opening the chest rather than seeing how far the hand will go.
Repetitions: 6-8 each side.
Ok, so performing the splits may not be top of your list but it does not mean your adductors don’t need some attention, restricted movement in any area is going to most certainly restrict a bigger movement somewhere down the line and that’s where problems start.
In the case of our hip adductors (inside thigh muscles) they are the direct antagonists (muscle that opposes the action of another) of our glute med (outer buttock muscles). When the adductors become restricted, they have a pulling effect on your knee which can inhibit the antagonist’s glute medius from doing its job properly creating instability. Before we know it, we have an imbalance, eventually resulting in movement dysfunction which could in time show in other joints such as the knee. However, when your adductors are both strong and flexible, they can be a great source of power and stability.
Adopt a half kneeling position with your wrists directly under your shoulder blades. From here extend your right leg out to the side with a straight knee in line with the hip. You want to maintain a neutral spine whilst keeping your abdominals engaged.
Slowly lower your hips back towards your heel without tucking the pelvis under (spine remains neutral). Your right toe points upwards to move back. I want you to really focus on moving deliberately back and forth keeping the movement slow and controlled.
Repetitions: 6-8 each side
This exercise activates the glutes while stretching the hip flexors, quadriceps and opening up through the chest.
Lay face down on a mat so that your stomach is on the floor and your arms are outstretched in a T shape in line with your shoulders, palms down. Your feet shoulder width apart.
To initiate the movement, engage your glutes as you extend and bend your left leg travelling it across your body so your knee points to the sky and toe to the floor. From here, keeping the head on the floor, raise the left arm towards the sky. Hold momentarily and then return under control before reposting to the other side. Remember to engage the glutes before moving, creating stability. You can also place a cushion under the head if you find the head lifts up.
Repetitions: 3-4 each side
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