Beyond nutrition, what can we be doing to improve our fitness when our time is so limited?
Physical fitness begins with our ability to perform the activities of daily living with sufficient strength and ease of movement. For many people, just getting out of bed or carrying groceries up a flight of stairs can feel like an athletic achievement. There is often not enough time to devote to exercise, and it is difficult to know where to find the right program in the right environment that will provide tangible results. Yet, the longer we “put up with” muscle stiffness, joint pain, and sedentary behaviors, the more susceptible we are to living with discomfort and potential injury.
These small yet significant strategies beyond sound nutrition can jumpstart your physical fitness:
1. Body Awareness: Pay attention to major joints (ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, neck) during moments of rest (sitting, lying down) and during movement (walking, carrying). Can you catch yourself slouching and sit straighter by contracting your core? Do you notice certain muscles or movements that consistently associate pain or stiffness? Identify possible contributing lifestyle factors, such as sleeping position, time spent sitting per day, and frequent carrying of heavy objects with only one side of the body, and see if there are opportunities to relieve any behaviors that contribute to postural imbalances.
2. Stability Conditioning: Holding positions against gravity will help develop core strength and endurance that is the foundation of good posture and healthy movement. These can be done anytime, anywhere. Here are some basic stabilization exercises that can be done daily holding each position for 30 seconds to 2 minutes based on ability.
- Forearm Plank
- Assume a push-up position but bend your arms at your elbows so your weight rests on your forearms.
- Tighten your abs, clench your glutes and keep your body straight from head to heels.
- Wall Sit Squat
- Stand tall against a wall with your head and back touching the wall.
- Position your feet so that they are shoulder-width apart and a few inches away from the wall.
- Rest your arms at your sides.
- Bend your knees and lower into a squat position until your thighs are parallel to the floor and hold the position
- Return to starting position by straightening your knees and standing tall again.
- Shoulder Bridge
- Begin lying on your back with your legs bent and hip-width apart. Arms should be by your side with palms down.
- Exhale to lift your pelvis and hips, creating a diagonal line from knee to shoulder.
- Inhale and slowly lower to the ground.
- Hollow Hold (abdominal)
- Lie down flat on your back and contract the abs, pulling the belly button towards the floor.
- The arms and legs should be held straight out from the body with hands and toes pointed.
- Slowly raise shoulders and legs from the ground.
3. Flexibility / Mobility Conditioning: Learning how to keep your joints moving well together through stretching and movement drills will set you up to move through life with strength and ease. These are relatively gentle, will prepare for more intense exertion if needed, and can be done anytime, anywhere. Flexibility and mobility conditioning typically require initial guidance from a trained professional, but here are a few common movements that can be done daily, holding each position for at least 10 seconds:
- Start on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders, and your knees directly under your hips. Point your fingertips facing forward. Place your shins and knees hip-width apart. Center your head in a neutral position and soften your gaze downward.
- Inhale as you drop your belly towards the mat. Lift your chin and chest, and gaze up toward the ceiling.
- Broaden across your shoulder blades and draw your shoulders away from your ears.
- As you exhale, draw your belly to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. The pose should look like a cat stretching its back.
- Release the crown of your head toward the floor, but don’t force your chin to your chest.
- Inhale, coming back into Cow Pose, and then exhale as you return to Cat Pose.
- Simple Supine Twist
- Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat.
- Inhale, and bring your knees to the left.
- Exhale, bring your knees back to center on the inhale.
- Repeat bringing your knees to the right.
- Single Leg Drop
- Lie faceup on a mat with both legs straight and perpendicular to the ground.
- Begin the exercise by lowering your right leg down slowly until it almost touches the ground, without changing the bend in your knee.
- Repeat as necessary on the right leg, then switch legs.
- Standing Hip Stretch
- Stand in a staggered stance with your right leg forward.
- Bend slightly at the knees and slowly continue to push your hips forward until you feel a good stretch.
- Hold for the desired amount of time and then switch legs and repeat the steps.
At any age, practicing physical fitness is a worthwhile investment in the quality of our lives.