Gwen, Lynn, and I were in class a while back, doing squats while lying down on the Reformer using a fairly heavy weight. Mandy was reminding us to try to keep our feet flat, as if we were standing upright on the floor.
“If you want to live your later life on your own, you need this skill. Maybe you don’t think like this, but this is you getting up off the toilet.”
Gwen: “Oh, I think about it. I see this all the time with patients. I know how important this is.”
Functional movement is how we use our bodies every day. In order to live well, reduce pain, and engage in our favorite activities, these basic movements are essential. And this is not just for those of us who are middle-aged or beyond. How we will spend the last 10 years of our lives begins with life choices in our 20s and 30s. You know the adage use it or lose it? Well, it’s true.
I’m a fan of the show Grace & Frankie with Jane Fonda & Lily Tomlin. The characters are in their 80s living wonderful, complicated lives, and doing it with lots of laughs. Grace, played by Fonda, is a retired business founder/owner/entrepreneur. But when her knee goes out and she has to text Frankie to help her get off the toilet, this independent woman is uncomfortably dependent on her friend.
Here’s how Nikki Naab-Levy, a women’s fitness & nutrition coach, sums up Grace’s experience:
First, if Grace had been strength training during most of her life, it’s likely she would have maintained the ability to get up and down off the toilet and couch unassisted.
Or if she had started strength training when she had these issues, it’s possible she could have regained the strength to do these tasks without having to text her friend or husband to help her….
….As we get older, we’re taught that this rapid loss of muscle and strength is an inevitable part of aging and to avoid strength training, because it’s “dangerous” and we might hurt ourselves and we should continue to try to look as young and thin as possible…and the whole thing is bulls**t.
Grace’s narrative is very real. Many of us are living or have lived a version of this… She’s so mentally strong and yet so physically fragile and it didn’t have to be that way….
I say it’s time to change this narrative. The truth is that …. it’s scientifically wrong.
Strength training isn’t dangerous for women, older adults, or people with injuries or pain. If anything, it’s the closest thing you can get to “anti-aging.”
Everyone needs to be taking care of their bodies, starting right now, at whatever age that now is. Exercise is perhaps the most recommended form of “medicine” for a huge array of medical conditions. And studies show that exercise has lots of benefits for older adults. We don’t stop moving because we age, we age because we stop moving.
Does this mean you need to be getting 10,000 steps a day or doing burpees, pull-ups, and box jumps? Those are great if you want to and can do them safely, but extremes are not necessary for maintaining that functional mobility. (In fact, new research shows that there may be diminishing returns above 7,000 steps a day. In fact, the 10,000 steps number came about by a marketing coincidence.)
It does include 150 minutes of moderate exercise AND 2 days of muscle-strengthening activity a week. What does that look like? It’s 30 minutes 5 days a week swimming or biking. Or maybe 10 minutes of brisk walking twice a day. Or mowing the lawn. As a double bonus, exercise also boosts your immune system.
And “muscle training?” That’s strength training. Pushing against resistance (like my example on the Reformer above), using bands or weights, even heavy gardening like digging or shoveling. And doing work on jump boards (like in our HeartCore classes) is the best of both cardio and resistance work.
Yes, we lose muscle mass as we age. The trick is to slow it down by caring for our bodies our whole lives. There is no aging out.
Be well, friends,