Move it, Move it in 2023
Of all the objectives I have as I wade further into the waters of old age, the key one is to remain independent for as long as is feasible for me.
That’s why I am changing my living space; not to include somewhere for my eventual carer to sleep, but in order to create enjoyable, convenient and beautiful rooms in a layout that will support me to live independently until I need end of life care.
That’s the intention. That’s the hope. And whether I achieve it or not relies on my mobility. If I can remain active and do all the day-to-day stuff of living for myself, then I should be able to achieve my objective to live independently to the very end.
I think that you all know that I have come very late to proper physical exercise. I had nurtured a lifelong aversion to lycra, gyms and a face red from exertion and slick with sweat. And then, aged 69, I met Lindsay Burrows and the rest, as they say, is history. Six years of working with Lindsay as my personal trainer on Tuesdays and Thursdays, along with my trusty pink OPTI exercise bike for the other days, have taught me so much, I hardly know where to begin. Maybe the most convincing for you all will be how well I recovered from something disabling that happened to me two weeks before Christmas.
I have long had a weakness in my lower back, probably from all those hours of my life sitting on my ample backside. From one minute to the next I go from fluid, easy movement to excruciating pain in which muscles and nerves ‘spasm’ if I attempt any normal bending or reaching. Walking, especially upstairs, is painful and turning over in bed or getting up from a chair (or the loo) become slow feats of agony and endurance. The only time there is no pain is when I am sitting still, well supported and with a hot water bottle at my lower back.
The temptation therefore is to sit still all day and get everyone around me to dance to my tune. Fortunately, thanks to Lindsay, I now know precisely what to do to manage and alleviate the pain without drugs and with gradual daily improvement, so that, very fortunately, by Christmas Day I was absolutely fine again. How? By doing the exercises Lindsay is demonstrating HERE and then going for a long walk every day. The right movement is absolutely key to my gradual recovery.
Whenever I write about the godsend that is Lindsay to my health and well being, many of you become disgruntled at my good fortune in being able to afford such a person in my life, which is why Lindsay and I have produced a series of videos showing exercise routines which are suitable for older women. I know some of you have really benefited from following the whole body workout programmes we put together. You can see all those videos HERE. Please note that it is best to get injuries and areas that are causing pain checked by a musculoskeletal physiotherapist first before commencing an exercise programme.
In addition to the videos, I thought you might also like to hear from Lindsay directly about ways to solve various physical problems which are common in women of my age.
Over to Lindsay:
“In the work that I do, I often meet women who are resigned to the fact that as their body gets older, it’s going to hurt. As such they put up with the pain and turn to medication if it gets too bad. They also start to restrict their activities. Ageing equals aching. Except it doesn’t have to be that way. So let’s look at the musculoskeletal changes we can expect and how to minimise their impact and also help to reduce the pain.
There are different types of joint, the point at which two bones meet. Some are immobile (ie in the skull), and others move in conjunction with the muscles around them. The most common of these are synovial joints. A synovial membrane containing fluid surrounds the joint to lubricate it while it moves. Just as a hinge in a door becomes stiff and creaky if not kept lubricated with oil, a joint that’s not moved regularly will become restricted in its range of movement. Joints are cushioned with cartilage, flexible connective tissue which also acts as a shock absorber. This tends to thin with age, causing friction and pain and sometimes leading to conditions such as osteo-arthritis.
Things that might help
Joint health can be maintained by ensuring that each joint is moved regularly through its full range and in each of the directions for which it is designed. Regular mobility work, either in an exercise class or as part of daily activities, will maintain blood flow to the area and preserve function and range of motion. Focus on areas that otherwise may not get moved e.g. the elbow bends and straightens a lot in daily life, but the shoulder less so and therefore needs attention.
Understand the impact of lifestyle. Sitting for extended periods leaves the spine immobile when it is built to flex, extend, bend and twist. Other joints such as the hip, neck and shoulders are impacted too. Make sure that you are creating opportunities to compensate for this by giving the body the movement for which it is designed
Just like a sponge, cartilage is soft and supple when it is hydrated and hard when it dries out. Water will also help to flush away toxins, reduce inflammation and ensure there is sufficient lubrication for optimum joint function. As a first step, establish how much water you are currently drinking and then aim for around 2 litres a day.
Sugar, refined carbohydrates such a white bread and pasta, alcohol and processed foods are known to increase the inflammation markers in the body and have very little nutritional value. Aim to eliminate them from your diet as much as you can in favour of lean protein, lots of vegetables, healthy fats and wholegrains.
If you have ever done an exercise class using weights, you will know that even the very lightest weight of 0.5 or 1kg quickly makes its presence felt. If you are carrying some extra body weight, it will have exactly the same effect on the joints. There is no need for ‘diets’ to achieve this, it really is possible to eat normally and maintain a healthy weight.
Bones are constantly being built, broken down and rebuilt via cells called osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Oestrogen plays a role in preventing too much bone being broken down and so as levels drop, maintaining bone mass becomes more challenging. Additionally, as calcium levels decline, bone density is impacted causing the bones to become more brittle and more inclined to break. Vitamin D, which, in countries where there is less sunshine can often be deficient, also plays an important role in absorbing calcium and maintaining the correct levels. In severe cases, this leads to osteoporosis most commonly in the hip, arms and wrists and spine.
Things that might help
Weight bearing activity will load the bones and in so doing, stimulate bone growth. Regular strength classes are invaluable or any activity that adds load at the right level. In this case, swimming is not the best choice of exercise as the water takes the weight rather than the skeleton.
Have your levels of calcium and vitamin D checked.
Working on your balance will reduce the likelihood of falling and the risk of fractures. This doesn’t necessarily help with treating the root cause but it certainly limits the damage.
It is well documented that we lose muscle mass from around the age of 30. While there is no question that this is the case, it is estimated that with exercise, no more than 10-15% of muscle needs to be lost over a lifetime. Our muscles respond to the demands that are placed upon them. If there aren’t any, the muscle reacts accordingly and the percentage loss will be much higher. Age exacerbates this. I saw a staggering statistic that estimated that for every day of bed rest for an older person, it can take up to two weeks to regain the muscle mass that will be lost.
Muscles can also get tight which results in the movement of the joint becoming misaligned and compromised. It is not unusual for the body to have imbalances where one muscle or group of muscles are overactive and others underactive. These patterns repeated over time can cause tension, pain and injury. Common areas of concern are the neck and shoulders, the mid back (thoracic spine), the bottom and the hips, especially the hip flexor muscle which crosses the front of the hip.
Things that might help
Challenging a muscle with a load that is a little heavier than it is used to, stimulates muscle growth. Bodyweight exercises or other types of resistance such as bands or weights will provide the stimulus needed. It is important to work with a professional to guide you on correct technique and the most appropriate exercises.
Posture and alignment
Being aware of correct postural positioning and working to alleviate muscular imbalances will help to reduce the pain. Pilates is an excellent discipline for this and brings with it many other additional benefits. It is a welcome addition to any programme.
Helps to ease out knots and tension as well as releasing the fascia, the connective tissue which surrounds the muscle fibres. It’s also a perfect way to de-stress which in itself, can wreak havoc with our body and the level of pain.
Ensuring the right amount of protein in the diet assists in the synthesis of new muscle fibres. It is recommended to eat an average of 0.8g of protein per kilo of body weight. For older adults the amount is higher at between 1 and 1.2 g per kilo. It is worth monitoring how much you are actually eating – you may be surprised!
And finally, the Importance of Mindset
As with anything, mindset is the difference between what is possible and what is not. If you think you can, you will. Understand what can be achieved and believe you can do it and you’re halfway there. To help you on your way, here’s just a few of the transformations, I have witnessed simply through the power of exercise and movement:
Knee pain that has been cured completely
Lower back pain alleviated
Hip replacements avoided
Neck tension reduced
Frozen shoulders returned to normal movement
Postural issues such as Dowagers Hump corrected
If you can incorporate some of the solutions suggested above consistently, you too should start to see improvements. Sometimes it happens without you even noticing and then you realise that a persistent pain has gone away.
The important thing is that age doesn’t have to mean an aching body. Don’t put up with pain and allow it to impact your life, there’s really no need.”
Thank you Lindsay and I say amen to that! I have no idea what state my body would be in at 75 if I hadn’t changed my mindset that ‘exercise is not for me’ six years ago. However I suspect that I’d be suffering from many more of those joint, bone and muscle problems that Lindsay has given us solutions to. And as for my lower back problem, without my daily exercise routine, I hate to think how painful and fraught my Christmas might have been!
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Friday 20th January
Monday 5th December
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Hi Tricia - I agree with you - keeping active and eating a sensible diet helps you to enjoy a healthy life so important at our age as we have to make the most of every day! x
Really interesting blog post. Any idea how to find a good personal trainer who specialises in helping ‘older’ women to become fitter?
Hi Tricia I just wanted to thank you for sharing your exercises, it is very generous of you. It made me feel guilty for not doing enough, so I have made a start on the ones illustrated - I may go on to the YouTube ones next. Again thank you and also for the useful make up demonstrations. Will you ever again open a shop? A friend and I came to your Wimbledon branch and found it very user friendly. Kind regards Pam
Thank you Tricia and Lindsay! Yes, one has to find an exercise one enjoys, and is easy to do, and get to, whatever the weather! So it's worth thinking out of the box a bit! For example, firstly, I've found the amazing world of community gardening, and so now do lots and lots of bending,stretching, barrowing, planting, problem solving ... in good company, with inspiring garden leaders, and with free organic fruit and veg to take home! Secondly, since 2017 I have a new family! - of women of all levels of fitness, in a group, part of the Athletics England project called 'Runtogether'. With carefully trained, inspirational, and kind group leaders, one can join at a fitness level to suit. Totally unfit, never run? - join a Walk and Chat group. Not run for 40 years? - join Couch to 5k; mega fit? Join an advanced run group ... Actually, just had a thought Tricia, it would make a good blog to get someone from Athletics England/Runtogether, to contribute, about running for older women!? Thanks again, anyway!
I agree with what you have said. Balance being one of those problems. I started ballet classes and go every Monday, been on a break since early December because of Christmas and also teacher was pregnant! My hips and neck are quite stiff and I realised no ballet stiff joints. So have gone on you tube and found some ballet classes and now going to do these clases every day to make me bend again!