‘Old age is like everything else, to make a success of it you’ve got to start young!’
Let's start with some facts about why you need to start training earlier than you might realise.
Many of us know that as we age we naturally start to lose muscle mass (called sarcopenia). But did you know it starts happening at 30?! From the age of 30, you begin to lose up to 3% - 5% each decade. Decreased muscle mass causes more weakness and less mobility, which can increase the risk of falling and of becoming injured, for example by fractures. Bones mass also decreases with age. In fact, over the age of 40 bone mass decreases at 1% per year. But these are not aspects of ageing that we have to just accept as inevitable.
In fact, strength training not only improves muscle mass but also leads to stronger bones which, particularly for women who are more at risk, minimises the likelihood of fractures due to osteoporosis.
The good news!
The positive is that you can counteract both these reductions by ‘training’. It doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym and start pumping weights. Using bodyweight alone and then gradually starting to lift weighted objects (coached in good technique) can reap huge rewards in terms of both strength and mobility.
Train for being an amazing 90-year-old - that’s my plan.
There is a lot of discussion around ‘longevity’ and I certainly want to be on this planet as long as I can, but the caveat is that I want to be able to enjoy all those years - both mentally and physically if I am lucky enough to be here. To my mind, there’s only point in a long life if it’s one where I can be moving well, spending time outdoors, spending fun times with family and friends and not being dependent on others. My wonderful granny lived until 100 and her thirst for life and independence was enviable. It is possible!
To aim for a body that moves well at 90, you need to start training now. With goals in mind of the types of movement you would like to still be able to perform, you need to then work back to engage in a training programme now that builds and maintains those movement patterns throughout the rest of your life. Think of simple movements that are easy now, but with greatly reduced mobility and strength, that could become very challenging. For example, to be able to put a heavy bag on the overhead shelf in a train, or even just lift it up onto the train (without having to accept the help of a kind passerby!), you need core stability to support your back, shoulder mobility and arm strength. If you are lucky enough to have grandchildren, when they run at you for that amazing hug, you want to be able to pick them up and not instead fear that they’ll knock you over! Even more basic, but necessary, what about even just being able to tie our shoelaces or put on trousers without having to sit down, or fasten a bra behind our backs. To be less physically dependent on others, we need to start training for that independence now.
To perform these movements well and with confidence, we need to train these movements now at a higher load with each previous decade. Even far more basic movements that we all once took for granted, like getting down on the ground to play with children, or just sorting and folding the washing on the floor can be a challenge for many, even at an early age.
Discomfort in floor sitting positions due to tight hips, weak ankles and toe joints, knee pressure and so on mean, that if they don't train to get down to the floor, sit and move in various positions on the floor, they can become fearful of not being able to get up again without significant support. Discomforts of these kinds (when the body is not in pain but is signalling difficulty in movement) are signals to do these movements more, rather than avoid them, as this means the discomfort can worsen and sometimes be a sign that potential injury is more likely.
Your movement ability could save your life!
These are all movements that we would like to maintain for a quality movement life. Less likely, but possible; what if we had to ‘save’ ourselves or others, but our bodies let us down through lack of strength or mobility. The burning building analogy is an interesting one. It is hopefully not likely to happen, but if we train with the goal of being able to cope with climbing out a window and landing as safely as possible when we jump, then we are more likely to achieve a functional and adaptable body that can cope with and enjoy life to the full.
Training for your 90s might seem to be aiming too far into the future, but even visualising being mobile, strong and capable can help us be honest about which movements we might already be avoiding or just cannot perform efficiently and safely.
Natural movement training is the answer - and it makes sense!
Natural movement training helps uncover the areas or movements that are already causing you issues in your overall movement patterns, many of which you might not even be aware of yet due to rarely moving your body in that way. Ground movements, get ups, lifting, carrying, stepping over and under, balancing, crawling and hanging are all skills that uncover areas of weakness to help us guide our movement training programme.
What’s your ‘healthspan’ going to be?
Living well every day in good health is my plan for life. I know from personal experience (About Me) that once good movement health is compromised or lost, it is sometimes only then that we realise how much we took it for granted. I now realise that it’s far harder to ‘get it back’ than it is to train preventatively.
But never fear, by re-learning and regular, consistent practice of our natural movement skills with good form and awareness, we can stay mobile, flexible, strong and adaptable for longer - the phrase, ‘use it or lose it’ is absolutely true for all parts of the human body.
There is no magic pill or bio-hack - by keeping balancing, strengthening, testing coordination and enjoying training in the movements our bodies were built to carry out, we can unlock and reclaim great movement patterns - for life!