Do we age or do we stop trying?
What was your first reaction to the pictures of Bette Calman above?
- That’s going to be me at her age!
- No way, I can’t even attempt that now!
Stereotypes about old age abound – ideas of people stooped and shuffling, at risk from falls, vulnerable. Yet most people will also know or have heard of someone in their 80s who still walks miles every day, runs marathons or accomplishes some other physical feat that would be impressive regardless of age. How do they manage it? Is it all the luck of the draw?
Depending on how you look at it, staying young is either the easiest or the hardest thing in the world to achieve. The less we move, the less we become capable of moving. The weaker we become, the less stable we feel, the greater the fear of falling. The negative cycle goes round and round, our own beliefs in our abilities and the aging process becoming self-fulfilling as muscles and bones weaken and we stop trying.
A fitness instructor once explained her philosophy to me. She worked on the assumption that we deteriorate physically over the years, so the better our starting position, the longer we will maintain strength and balance throughout our lives. Kathy Cummings, who teaches Restorative Exercise at Louth Yoga Studio has recently introduced me to the work of Katy Bowman and her conviction born of experience that it’s not all a downhill slide. People can regain strength through simple exercises and introducing gentle movement into their lives. Katy’s way of looking at bodies views movement as being essential nutrition, as important as food, to be taken every day. In an increasingly sedentary world, is it surprising that we lose the ability to move with confidence and without pain?
In her book, Dynamic Aging, Katy diagnoses the shuffling gait associated with people we think of as frail and elderly as being a symptom of fear (of falling) – picture yourself on an icy surface when your body tenses, your steps shorten and all your focus is on staying upright. Kathy Cummings is a Restorative Exercise Specialist, trained to teach the moves and stretches offered as remedies in the book and is one of the first in the UK to be able to offer the classes. Her workshops, running in May and July 2018, are ideal if you feel that yoga or Pilates will be too strenuous, or if you have a particular area of pain or imbalance you want to correct.
Helping your body help itself
The fundamentals are alignment, stacking the bones so that they bear load and using the muscles to hold them in place rather than sagging and hanging in the ligaments. The detail is best explored in a class with an experienced observer of posture, but a simple test you can try for yourself is to take a couple of steps on the spot, then stop and glance down at your feet. Do the toes point out to the sides with the body weight going mostly through the outer edge of the foot? Or do the point forwards, with the weight more evenly spread between both sides? Don’t try to force the feet to a drastically different position, as your knees and hips and all the muscles of the legs need to start cooperating to build the alignment, undoing years of habits – that’s where the exercises come in.
Another one you can quickly check for yourself if you have access to a long mirror is to look at yourself sideways on. Are your hips and knees directly above the ankles with all that bone structure supporting you, or do you spend most of your time leaning forwards?
Building strength into the day
How many times a day do you stand and sit? If you add up all the trips to the loo and the kettle, it’s likely to be at least into double figures even for people who think they do no exercise at all.
How do you get up and down? Do you have to shuffle to the front of the seat and lever your self out, or use a bit of momentum to get the extra lift? Do you aim for the chair when sitting and land from about a foot above the cushion? Start using leg muscle when you stand and sit by deliberately moving slowly, keeping your weight in your heels, leaning forward with your chest and reaching forward with your arms, keeping your knees in line with your hips (not drifting in towards each other). If that’s too much to start with, prop yourself up on more cushions, books or blocks so you don’t have to rise and lower so far. You will be surprised at how soon you can get rid of the props if you are standing and sitting with focus dozens of times a day.
Kathy’s workshops start again on Thursday 10th May and run for four weeks. Sessions last 90 minutes and cost £12 each or 4 for £40. Book via the studio or contact Kathy directly 07967046115.