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Move it so you don't lose it!

It can be quite alarming how quickly we lose mobility as we get older. One year you’re squatting down to do the gardening, the next you seem fused at the hips. Or maybe it’s your knees, or your ankles – there’s quite a lot involved in performing a humble squat.

Which is one of the reasons why activities like squatting, bending, reaching, climbing the stairs, picking things up off the floor and even lifting your legs to get into the bath become harder as we age – mobility relies on being able to actively move and control your joints and muscles through a broad range of motion. The weaker our muscles become and the creakier our joints, the harder it is to move ourselves about.

For instance, a simple activity like getting up out of a chair requires strength in your hamstrings and quadriceps (the muscles at the back and front of your thighs respectively); gastrocnemius (your calf muscles); obliques and rectus abdominus (your abdominal muscles); your gluteus maximus (your rear muscles); and the muscles that support your spine.

So, there’s a lot going on and how mobile you are will determine how comfortable you are performing the task without needing to compromise. For example, over time you might increasingly find yourself engaging your arm muscles to lift yourself out of your chair. Or as your muscles get weaker over the years, you might lean further forward as you rise, so gravity and momentum help propel you from your seating position.

The reason we start to compromise movement is because our muscle strength and joint range of motion aren’t sufficient to effortlessly perform the task. Unfortunately, the more we compromise, the further our mobility reduces. Our joints’ range of motion becomes smaller and our muscles weaker from not performing the task correctly.

Fortunately, there are many ways to slow down and even prevent this downward spiral from happening. 

The old adage ‘move it or lose it’ has never been truer than when it comes to mobility. Exercise and general movement is imperative if you want to stay active throughout your life. Even if physical activity is something you’ve neglected up until this point, the good news is that it’s never too late to improve your mobility and consequently improve your quality of life. 

One of the big wins when you add a mobility program to your daily life is how quickly you can progress. From week to week, you’ll find your muscles getting stronger, your joints more lubricated and the exercises easier to perform. Even better, this all translates immediately into an easier daily life. Sitting, bending, walking, climbing and even getting out of bed in the morning will start to feel easier and consequently more joyful.

To get you started on a mobility program you can do at home, here are links to five important exercises for you to try at home. Today. Maybe right now? Wait a moment. While your enthusiasm is admirable, it’s best to check in with your health care provider before you launch into any new physical activity. Once you’ve got their go-ahead, give these exercises a try.

Chair squats

These are also known as ‘semi-sits’ and are a great way to build leg and core strength. You can find a safe YouTube tutorial on how to perform this exercise here

Hip flexor with side bend 

Working on your hip mobilisation can reduce knee and back discomfort and improve your ability to walk, run and even stand. There’s an easy-to-follow YouTube tutorial here.

Supine spinal twist

This movement mobilises your thoracic spine – the ‘mid back’ area that is critical for upper-body movements like reaching overhead. In addition, this much-loved yoga pose really makes you feel good. See how to do it with correct form here.

Lateral toe taps

Foot taps improve balance and coordination as well as your quad strength and hip mobility. They are the kind of everyday exercise you can fit in while you wait for the kettle to boil, when brushing your teeth or waiting in a queue (if you dare). This simple exercise is demonstrated here.

Glute bridge 

Your rear muscles are a critical part of your overall core stability. They stabilise your hips and pelvis and take the load off your back. This glute bridge exercise will build glute strength, strengthen your back, improve your posture and strengthen your overall core. There is an excellent YouTube tutorial to teach you how to correctly do this exercise here.

There are plenty more fun mobility exercises to add to your daily routine. You can also try adding an activity like Pilates, yoga or tai chi to your week. The best thing to do when you’re starting out is to talk to your health care provider for their recommendation and then commit to doing your routine consistently.