In the natural movement world we often speak of the necessity to be able to squat, run through a forest barefoot and my personal favorite is being able to carry your baby on your back while you fly through trees like Tarzan.
We sometimes forget that not everyone is worried about elite level movement skills and that not only do athletes need great movement skills, but grandmas and grandpas do too. I often get objections from younger trainees that they don’t need to do an inverted crawl or hand-foot crawl, but I rarely get objections from anyone over 40.
Just because you are over 40 doesn’t mean you are old and can’t move!
In the aging baby boomer population, the primary motivations I see for movement are really matters of life or death.
Regardless of where you live, minimal balance skills are required for many tasks from walking up stairs to getting out of your car. One of the most common causes of falls in older individuals is simply getting out of bed!
While most of our balancing brain hardware is wired by the age of 12, the “skill” of balancing can be improved upon throughout a lifetime. Similar to how most baseball pitchers have a maximum velocity attained in high school and early college while the rest of their career is focused on controlling their pitches. Likewise, we should be working on our balancing skill to maintain a long and healthy “career” as a human.
Balance is especially critical for those that are in the aging and elderly population. If you don’t consider yourself part of the aging or elderly population, don’t worry, you will be there soon!
Hip fractures are a huge risk of death in the United States with a 1 in 10 chance of dying within 30 days after a hip fracture. The rate increases to almost 1 in 5 if you have a current medical problem at the time the hip fracture occurs. The medical community is doing their part in looking at getting surgery underway within 24 hours and optimizing other parameters, but the best management, like always, is prevention.
This is just one reason why regardless of whether you are trying to be Tarzan or if you just want to visit your grandchildren, you should be including balance work in your daily training sessions.
A simple 2×4 piece of wood is all you need and you can practice your balancing daily at home. Other great movements to improve balancing skills include tandem squats, single kettlebell carries or any movement you have to do with one leg at a time such as a simple one-leg swing jump. (You can find all of these movements on the MovNat YouTube Chanenl)
I recommend starting every training session with a simple 2×4 balancing skill as it makes you focus on what you are doing and prevents injury by preparing you for more complex movements that require strength, balance and stability.
I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!
Next to death, one of the biggest fears of anyone that is aging is not being able to take care of themselves. Not taking care of yourself can include anything from having to have someone change your diapers, not being able to shower by yourself or losing reaction skills so that you can no longer drive your car.
One of the main reasons you may have to have a caretaker is if you fall down and can’t get up. We have all heard the infamous television commercial with an older male/female that has fallen to the ground and has to call for help. This isn’t just a satirical commercial, but rather a carefully marketed commercial that addresses one of the real life concerns many people have.
How do we prevent this?
The most common cure for the “stuck on the ground” disease is to never lose the ability to get up off of the ground. While this makes sense, the majority of the population are slowly losing the ability to get up off the ground or even off of a couch or chair.
It is important to understand that we as humans are great at compensating in order to save energy. One of the ways we start to do this early on in our lives is to “plop” down on the couch rather than sit slowly. Due to the super fluffiness of today’s sofas and chairs, we can essentially drop down on our seat without lowering our body with any control. You will see this from the young to the elderly, but it is a definite reflection of their health status. The lowering phase of a movement is just as important if not more important than the raising portion of a movement. The lowering (eccentric) phase of sitting or squatting is often the limiting factor in overall force production.
The next way I see many people compensate for poor movement and strength is to use their arms when they get up from the floor, couch or chair. Every time you do this, you lose a little bit of leg strength, lose the ability to balance for a split second and slowly but surely lose the ability to get up at all. This also includes people who have to swing their whole upper torso forward to get momentum to stand up. You should be able to get to the edge of your chair, then stand straight up without swinging your arms or getting momentum.
What to do if you have Couch Syndrome?
First, start lowering yourself down in a controlled manner anytime you sit down. This will help you develop the strength you need if you have lost it.
STOP using your hands to get up off of the couch! If you can eliminate using your hands, next try and make sure you are not using your torso for momentum.
After you can get up off the couch without compensation, then try and get up from the ground without using your hands or swinging your body.
With daily practice you will see these skills improve and can be confident that as you age, you will be strong enough to take care of yourself and those that need you.