Floor-shy but chair-friendly
Most of us rarely choose to get down and sit on the ground as we did all the time when we were children (and many nations still do by choice) - remember sitting cross-legged for assembly or story-time on the carpet. We didn’t have to think about ‘how’ we performed these movements as they came completely naturally. But as we age, many of us tend to use the ground less and less as a place to sit and move, and instead sit on chairs, sofas and of course beds and cars often for the vast majority of the day. But the outcome of this choice is that we can actually become unable to feel comfortable sitting on the ground and find it difficult to get down and up from the floor. All too often people in their later years fear falling as much because they obviously don’t want to break a bone, as the fear of not then being able to get back up again.
How well do you move in the metre from standing to sitting on the floor and vice versa?
Even if you do get down to and up from the floor for various activities, do you ever find yourself leaning on your front knee as you stand up. How often do you grab something nearby to help pull you up, push up from, or steady yourself? How often do you use your hands to push you up from the floor and do you feel you need to brace yourself? We assume this only applies to ‘older’ people, but you even see quite young people doing this. Our bodies always look for the easiest, most energy-efficient way to perform movements when we are moving automatically. Bringing more awareness to your daily movements, means you are more likely to notice which short-cuts you are taking without thinking.
So what’s the answer?
Training your body regularly in these (and many other) natural movement patterns means you are more likely to be able to continue to perform these movements, and to perform them well, as long as you keep training them! In natural movement we always start with a large range of ground movements both to warm-up the body for the skills practice, but also to gradually adapt your joints and other tissues to become capable of lowering yourself down to the ground and back up from it with strength and confidence. Then while we’re down on the floor to be able to adopt a whole variety of sitting positions (did you know there are over 100?!) with comfort. Moving through and connecting ground positions uses joints & muscles greater ranges of motion than when standing.
Can you get up off the ground without using your hands or your knees - and did you know it is linked to longevity?
If the answer is yes, or I can with one hand, then you’re likely to live a longer, healthier life! A Brazilian study between 2005 & 2011 of over 2,000 people aged 51-80 at the Clinimex-Exercise Medicine Clinic in Rio de Janeiro, led by Dr Araújo found a link between needing to use more than one hand or a knee to get down to or up from the ground, as being six times more likely to die prematurely. The participants were simply asked to get down to the ground and stand back up as un-aided as possible with the speed of movement not being a factor. The group were then followed either until their deaths or the end of the study (just over 6 years later). A points system of 5 for sitting and 5 for rising was given, with a point being taken away for each hand or knee that was used.
During the study 159 people died and the majority of these were people with low test scores (in fact only two had the highest possible score of 10 points). Taking into account age, gender and BMI the study found that test scores were a ‘significant independent predictor’ of longevity. Scores of 3 or less had 5-6 times higher risk of death than those scoring 8 or more points. Scoring below 8 was linked to 2-5 times higher death rates. The two-minute sitting-rising test was ‘remarkably predictive’ of people’s likely strength, flexibility and co-ordination (i.e. their musculoskeletal fitness) at a range of different age bands.
Dr Araújo said: ‘Our study also shows that maintaining high levels of body flexibility, muscle strength, power-to-body weight ratio and co-ordination are not only good for performing daily activities but have a favourable influence on life expectancy.’
Train these natural movements to live a longer, healthier life
So - the more we can find strength & mobility in our toes, feet, ankles, knees and hips, the less we need to use our arms. The best way to increase the amount of times you get down to the ground is always to think about things you can do whilst sat on the ground, that way you have to safely get down, sit on the ground in a variety of ways and then get back up. Then, you are training without even realising! Stacking your life with healthy movements whilst doing something you have to do anyway! I work on my laptop on a low coffee table, fold the washing on the floor and sit or lie on the ground when watching TV, going through a variety of stretches to ease out the tensions of the day. Don’t forget to mix up the movements and always use both sides, even the harder side! When you find yourself tending to always get up with one leg, become aware and remember to start with the other side the next time.
Make the ground a ‘friend for life’ and it’ll be a friend that keeps on giving!