Maintaining mobility as we age might be one of the most important health goals we could have as we go through life. After all, movement is required to continue to enjoy our hobbies and activities, interact with the environment, maintain social connections, work, exercise and keep our brains healthy. What you’re probably wondering now is, how to maintain mobility as you age?
Let’s start by clearing up a common misconception that flexibility and mobility are interchangeable terms. They are not. Flexibility refers to the range of motion of a joint. Mobility, on the other hand, refers to the degree of function and control over that joint and its range of motion. An example could be that a person has the range of motion (flexibility) to bend down, but doesn’t quite have the control (mobility) to squat down and lift their toddler grandchild off the ground.
Focus Less on Flexibility and More on Mobility
One of my colleagues, Brian Morrison, D.C. lectures often on the subject of mobility. He once pointed out in a lecture that elite athletes usually have average flexibility but exceptional levels of strength, power, endurance and balance. He also talked about how the average person doesn’t need more range of motion (flexibility); just better performance and control of the range of motion that they have (mobility)… like elite athletes. The same thoughts could apply to maintaining mobility as we age.
Why do Mobility Issues Occur?
Basically, there are three causes of mobility issues:
- Normal Aging – after the age of 30, we begin losing muscle mass, bone density and flexibility.
- Poor Diet – our muscles and joints need the proper nutrition to function well.
- Pain from Injuries – we often experience pain as a result of injuries from car accidents, sports, or repetitive stresses like sitting for hours in front of a computer.
[Related – The Importance of Chiropractic on Stress Relief]
Pain Avoidance Leads to Declining Movement
Once we begin developing pain in specific areas or joints, we may start to avoid certain movements or activities. This type of avoidance can lead to weakness, loss of control and stability, and decline in coordination and balance. Pain may start with an injury, but its continuance doesn’t always mean a joint or muscle should not be moved. Also, hurt does not always equal harm. So, it is not necessarily good to let the fear of pain cause you to move less and less.
Creating a Nerve and Motor Pattern Helps Movement
One of the keys to maintaining mobility is finding the right way to rehabilitate or condition the weak area. During therapy, we want a person in the zone of what we call “The Edge.” This means they should find the movement challenging, with little or no pain, and be able to keep good form. Here’s an example:
Let’s say a person has difficulty rising from a chair. Perhaps they are weak and it is painful in their knees and back. The typical exercise that would strengthen those areas and involve the right joints would be squatting. However, squatting is too difficult and painful. As a solution, we might have them stand by the back of their couch and flex at the hips pushing their butt back until it hits the back of the couch. They may be able to do this movement pain free and successfully while still feeling challenged working the muscles.
When this becomes easy, we may have them do this on a slightly lower target. After a period of time practicing, they may be able to squat, hitting their butt on the back of a chair. The next thing you know, they are able to get up and down out of a chair quite easily!
This works because performing a movement sequence well creates a nerve and motor pattern that makes it easier and easier to painlessly repeat. Nerves that wire together fire together! The alternative is avoidance, which leads ultimately to being more and more sedentary. That is no fun!
What Can You Do?
- Chiropractic Manipulation – stimulates the brain to reset the perception of pain. It also turns down the part of our nervous system that perceives threat. Decreasing the perception of threat decreases the perception of pain.
- Exercise Regularly – contributes to slowing both cognitive and balance decline in the elderly.
- Reduce Stress – helps your body experience less pain and move well. The body produces cortisol in response to stress and cortisol inhibits the body’s own pain relieving neurotransmitters. Yoga and meditation are great ways to reduce stress!
- Eat Well and Get the Right Nutrition – ensures you get enough protein to maintain muscle mass and strength, and enough vitamins and minerals for your bones and joints.
Remember, moving better keeps us engaged in life, prevents injury, relieves pain, slows the effects of aging and helps us to enjoy that mind-body connection. Hopefully, you now have better insight to answer the question how to maintain mobility as you age. Start working today on maintaining your mobility and you’ll enjoy the rewards later in life. If you’re already advanced in years, it’s never too late to start.