Originally published in the "Danvers Herald," June 1, 2006
By Peter Harmeling
If you can’t move around you can’t have fun! It’s that simple. As we age, we begin to lose our natural mobility. Taking walks, playing tennis, going out shopping, shooting a quick nine holes on the golf course, these things aren’t as easy as they used to be. But it doesn’t have to be this way. It is true that there are some serious medical conditions—for example, heart problems, strokes, and severe arthritis—that contribute to this loss of mobility. For these conditions, it is best to check with your doctor. But there are other impediments to movement that you can conquer all by yourself.
Here’s how the vicious cycle begins: tight, inflexible, weak muscles, poor posture, declining aerobic condition, and a deteriorating sense of balance all impair movement. Fear of falling, pain, and fatigue all reinforce a more sedentary lifestyle. This sedentary lifestyle leads to further decline in the conditions listed above. And the vicious cycle continues over a number of years. Suddenly, you are a virtual prisoner in your easy chair.
But you don’t have to stay in this condition. Tight muscles can be stretched. Weak muscles can be made stronger, balance can be improved, and your heart and lungs can get a workout, as well. Best of all, you can shed your fear and begin to feel confident in your ability to move.
As a professional physical therapist, I am always amazed at the changes that occur in my senior patients when they begin a very simple set of exercises for their lower extremities to work on flexibility, strength, balance, endurance, and posture. The results are often astounding. More mobility, greater stamina, less pain, more confidence and of course a lot more fun!
So talk to your doctor and see if it’s a good idea for you to begin an exercise routine. See a physical therapist who works with geriatric patients and tell them you want to work on moving around more easily. You can also go to my web page and see these exercises outlined. If you follow my advice here, make sure to start nice and easy and use common sense. And remember, if you want to see progress, you have to stick with it. In future columns I will tell you more about specific conditions such as shoulder problems, neck and lower back pain, and hip and knee conditions. Good luck and remember having fun is what it’s all about.
Peter J. Harmeling, M.ED, PT, SCS, ATC, is the owner of Harmeling Physical Therapy in Danvers, Wenham, and North Reading. He will be writing columns periodically to help people gain mobility and, ultimately, feel better.