So, is exercise the fountain of youth??? It may be the closest thing we have to it. Lots of things change throughout our lives including our cars, jobs, and houses, but our bodies are the one constant that is with us for the long haul. We can’t trade it in or upgrade it so taking the time to learn about how we can keep our engine running smoothly with appropriate nutrition and exercise is worth it. I don’t plan on going in depth on nutrition, but anyone with direct questions is more than welcome to ask by posting a comment on the blog, and I will be happy to answer your questions. No one can deny that our food choice has a profound effect on our energy levels and overall health as we age.
Physical activity also has a profound effect on our engine, so much so that it can help to maintain our cardiovascular system, our mental health, and it can prevent or control symptoms like osteoporosis, arthritis, prolapse, and incontinence. Why are we all so willing to take multiple pills to control all or some of these symptoms when we can simply learn specific exercises to control them?
Let’s start with osteoporosis which is defined as “the reduction in mass of bone per unit of volume, interfering with the mechanical support function of bone.” It is said that this bone loss begins after the age of 25 and speeds up after menopause. How do we prevent it? With resistance exercise! Find a physical therapist near you who can teach you appropriate strengthening exercises for your legs, arms, back, and appropriate postural strengthening exercises. Some of these exercises can be as simple as squats at the kitchen sink, shoulder blades squeezes “down and in,” as well as resistance training for your upper and lower body using your own body weight, tubing, or hand weights. Bottom line: Resistance exercise can help prevent osteoporosis.
Arthritis is defined as “inflammation of a joint.” Arthritis can cause significant stiffness and pain, but don’t let it scare you. The best way to fight arthritis is to move the joint to flush out the inflammation and increase circulation. Out with the old, in with the new! Arthritis will cause you to be stiff and sore in the morning or after prolonged sitting but you have got to keep working the joint to prevent the inflammation from just sitting there. Warm showers in the morning improve circulation and blood flow, and exercising throughout the day to move the joint is important. A physical therapist can show you how to strengthen the muscles that support the joint to prevent excessive wear and tear. One the most common mistakes I see among patients with arthritic knee(s) is stopping squatting down or avoiding stairs because it hurts. The avoidance will only serve to further weaken the knee joint as the muscles supporting the knee are no longer worked. Rather, performing controlled squats with weight on your heels, not going past a 90 degree knee bend may control, if not improve your knee pain.
The next two conditions of incontinence and prolapse can also be controlled with an appropriate exercise program. Specific exercises are presented clearly on our Hab It: Pelvic Floor DVD which provides physical therapy guidance through four separate workouts aimed at helping strengthen pelvic floor and support muscles. Let’s talk about prolapse and incontinence, two very common conditions experienced with increased age.
Prolapse, “the falling or dropping down of an organ,” is often described as a heaviness within one’s vaginal opening or a feeling of “lack of support”. The prevalence of prolapse symptoms in women post partum and perimenopause is staggering. The numbers seem to be increasing as women are talking more openly about their symptoms and looking to do something about it. Can you believe exercise can control this as well? Picture our organs – your bowel, bladder, and uterus – suspended by ligaments and cradled by our pelvic floor muscles. The organs are being pulled down by gravity our whole lives and then hormone changes that occur with pregnancy and menopause, as well as the trauma of childbirth, can change the ligamentous support for these organs. That leaves our muscles to hold everything in place. A physical therapist or the Hab It: Pelvic Floor DVD can show you several exercises and appropriate postural alignment to help support your pelvic organs to prevent or improve your prolapse symptoms.
Incontinence is “the involuntary loss of bowel or bladder control.” Did you know that an estimated 20 million women experience involuntary urine leakage? This is no small problem. A few simple exercises every day could resolve a great number of these cases and could improve many others. A women’s health physical therapist in your area or the Hab It: Pelvic Floor DVD can coach you through a specific exercise routine to strengthen the appropriate muscles. Exercises will include drawing your pelvic floor up into your pelvic outlet and holding it for endurance as well as short, quick contractions; strengthening your lower abdominals (transversus abdominus) while drawing your pelvic floor up toward your belly button; and also strengthening the support muscles of your deep hip rotators, your lower back and your inner thighs.
Specific exercise programs for all of these symptoms (osteoporosis, arthritis, prolapse, and incontinence) are like regular tune ups for your body. I don’t want to pretend that the solution to any of these problems is simple. You have to be a student of your own body and commit to regular exercise routines to reap the benefits. No one can do it for you. The reality is that you are the driver and you want your body’s engine to run as smoothly as possible for as long as possible. To do this, tune ups are required along the way!
(All definitions taken from Taber’s Medical Dictionary)