Author: Anna Unson-Price
Younger generations tend to believe that as people get older, there is an automatic and natural loss of flexibility and strength, and, as they themselves age, they think that they have no choice but to accept it and just allow it to happen. This is absolutely not true. What happens most of the time is that as adults acquire families, jobs, and surround themselves with more comforts, they become more complacent and less active, and muscles that were once used regularly are now utilized less frequently, if at all. They sit at their desks or on their couches, and the muscles atrophy, the joints tighten, and the stamina decreases. And when they do need to be active for some reason, like to pick up something on the floor or to play badminton on a weekend, it’s more likely that they end up injured and aren’t very likely to want to try it again.
But is there a point when one should stop expecting to benefit from exercise? In short, no. Even very young people who stop exercising lose conditioning and certain capabilities they had when they were training regularly in a sport or activity. A man of 25 who could do 100 push-ups easily is definitely going to have a difficult time trying to do to again after just a year of not working out. A teenage ballerina might even injure herself performing a split if she suddenly tries one after several years of not stretching. The biggest reason that people, whether young or older, lose strength and flexibility that they once had is due to nothing more than simple disuse. One of my jobs is teaching kids and teenagers and one of the lessons I make sure to emphasize is that it takes much less time and effort to maintain strength and flexibility than it does to lose it all and have to start from scratch. But if your fitness level did decrease, because of an injury or just being busy, it is entirely possible to gain it back and get even stronger and more flexible than you were before.
Although we’ve discussed how you can start a fitness program at any age and still reap amazing benefits, for this article, I’m starting out by offering 5 moves that you can do to gently wake up muscles and joints that may not have been active for some time. These moves are very safe and effective if done properly and carefully. If you would like to watch them being done properly, click the link. The instructions are below. Please remember to always check with your doctor before beginning this or any kind of exercise program.
1. Exercise Band Chest Opener - This is a wonderful opener that counteracts chest tightness and upper back hunching that comes from the constant sitting and all the forward movements that we do all day, every day. It’s one of the best movements you can do to improve your posture and re-energize your whole upper body.
If you don’t have an elastic exercise band, you can use a 1.5 to 2 meter length of string or leftover ribbon, or the sash of a bathrobe. It can be done sitting on the floor, or on a chair, and even standing. Just make sure to stop your back from arching.
2. Gentle Back Stretch - In yoga, there are cat and cow poses that ease the body into a gentle spinal flexion and extension. This is pretty much the same, but is a lot easier on the lower back because you’re in a well-supported position instead of on all fours. When you get used to this, you can move onto lying or kneeling Cat-Cow. This pose sequence is excellent for stretching the lower back and allowing it to flatten by engaging the abdominal muscles, so it’s also great for strengthening and tightening the stomach.
3. Strengthening the arches of the feet - Maintaining the stability of the arches of the foot is necessary for the body to have balance and mobility. Weak or collapsed arches can affect the ankle, knee, and hip joints and even contribute to falls. This simple exercise targets the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that strengthen the bones in the feet which help the foot support the body’s weight and provide shock absorption during movement.
4. Seated Piriformis Stretch - The piriformis muscle is located deep inside the hip. If you don’t keep this muscle flexible, it can pinch the sciatic nerve which can cause pain along the path of the nerve which goes all the way down from the hip to the foot. Tightness in the piriformis can also cause lower back strain. This can be done when you first get up from bed or when you feel tension in the back and hip.
5. Lying Hamstring Stretch - One of the primary causes of lower back injury is inflexibility in the hamstrings. The hamstrings are a group of three muscles on the back of the thigh, and tightness here makes it difficult to maintain an upright posture, that’s why you might see that someone looks elderly because of how their torso leans forward, especially when walking. Tight hamstrings can even make sitting on the floor difficult, without using the hands on the ground behind for support.
The lying version is the safest way to stretch the hamstrings because the lower back is supported. The opposite foot stays near the hip to provide even more support, or if it’s not uncomfortable, you might prefer to extend the leg to the ground.
I am proud to be the very first fitness and health columnist in the Philippines, since 1990. I also hosted and choreographed Philippine TV’s first fitness shows - The Gym Team and Muscles in Motion. I have taught a wide variety of fitness for all populations - from babies and kids to adults and seniors. Aside from teaching classes regularly, I also lecture and lead workshops for sports, fitness for special populations, all the way from breathing for stress-relief to regular weight loss and body shaping and strengthening for anyone, of any age.
My main objective in my career in fitness has always been to put health and fitness within easy reach of the general public, at any level of society, at practically any capability. I believe that the best way to accomplish this is by giving them all the tools and knowledge to create their own healthy lifestyles, instead of being forced to rely on doctors or personal trainers they might not be able to afford. I am not trying to take the place of medicine or doctors and I always tell my clients to check with a medical professional before they begin any fitness program.
I injured my lower back when I was 23 which in a way was a blessing in disguise because it taught me to always be aware of how poorly performed exercises and movements can do certain people who may already have weaknesses or injuries more harm than good. Since then my goal has always been to teach people to take care of certain high risk areas in their body and to gently strengthen and stretch them to bring them back to as close to normal function as possible.
Follow me on Facebook at Yoga Moves with Anna Unson-Price, where I will be moving all my live streaming sessions. I’ll also upload the live stream videos to my YouTube channel. I do both personal training and corporate classes, but in this time of home quarantining, I do coaching calls for regular fitness and also create workouts for specific needs, like lower back or shoulder injuries. I can be reached via text or Viber at 09178433001.