Although we can do everything in our power to live healthy lives, it’s impossible to fully delay aging. Some bodily processes begin to break down over the years, and it’s just part of life. For example, the complaint around progressive stiffness is a completely valid one.
As the body grows old, our fibroblasts struggle to make glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) at a consistent rate. Unfortunately, these highly polar sugar units are the very products that attract water to lubricate joints and improve shock absorption. Consequently, there is less water in your cartilage, bones, and muscles causing increased stiffness.
Due to the decreased production of GAGs, we tend to notice the body’s aches and pains more often. Once we feel discomfort, we often make the mistake of lying low and not taking any risks to stop further complications. I know of many clients who have halted their activity because of stiffness, and unfortunately, they have it all backward. This sedentary habit only compounds soreness as you prevent your tissues from moving naturally.
Although we can’t completely stop aging, we do have access to a powerful tool for maintaining activity for years to come…movement. The simple act of getting out of your chair, or going for a brief walk can make all the difference. It’s time to look at three practical ways to move more throughout your day to fight back on body stiffness. You may just surprise yourself with how much you can control the destiny of your aging!
Here’s to pain-free movement for years to come.
3 Habits To Prevent Stiffness
While any movement can assist in decreasing stiffness, I want to look at 3 key habits to maintain your wellbeing for as long as possible. The first one is a general habit to master, while the other two will give you specific tools and exercises to maximize your musculoskeletal longevity.
As always, please check in with your health provider if you have any concerns about the advice below. Joint health is nothing to mess with, so communicate with the professional who knows you best before constructing a plan. Without further ado, let’s get into it!
1) Divide Up Sedentary Time
The biggest mistake we can make is thinking that going to the gym twice a week is all it takes to maintain joint health. The truth is, reducing stiffness and maximizing your wellness requires a daily effort. To assist you in this journey, I’ve compiled seven strategies to help you get moving more throughout your day.
Stand up every 30 minutes — even for 30 seconds. If there is one thing you take away from this article, please let it be this.
Invest in a standing desk. Just know that movement breaks are still required every 30 minutes.
Consider taking a brief walk on your lunch break.
Stand up for every phone call (if it’s not too awkward of course).
Combine driving with walking by parking a few minutes from your workplace.
Use a water bottle, but only fill it halfway. This will cause you to get up more frequently to replenish it.
Set timers on your phone for sedentary leisure activities. If this doesn’t fly, consider being active in front of your screen! Who says you can’t do squats while watching TV?
“It is not good enough to exercise for 30 minutes a day and be sedentary for 23 and a half hours.” — Dr. David Alter
2) Master the Art of Whole-Body Mobility
While standing up and going for walks can help reduce stiffness, you’ll make up the most ground through an intentional mobility practice. Below are 3 of my favorite movements that are accessible to nearly every population. Try doing them three to four times a week! If you’re interested in more exercises, I have you covered here. If you want to know more about the science behind mobility, take a look at this article. The key with mobility is to take each movement slowly so that you’re always in control. Don’t forget to take deep breathes!
Cues:5 reps / side. Start in a push-up position. Step forward with one foot and plant the opposite hand just beside it. Next, fan the other arm vertically for five reps before switching sides. Track your eyes with your thumb to encourage rotation through the neck. Take things slowly — each rep should take approximately three seconds to complete.
Cues: 10–15 reps / side.Start by lying on your back with the knees bent to approximately 90 degrees. Next, raise your hands behind your head and slowly rock your knees from side to side. Begin with a smaller range of motion, gradually increase the length of each rep as you warm up. This is a great active way to get movement through the low back and pelvis.
Toe Touch Squat-to-Stand
Cues: 10–15 reps. Begin by hinging at the hips and lowering the arms to the floor. Don’t worry if you can’t touch your toes, just do your best. Next drop into a squat by bending the knees, lowering the hips, and raising the chest/head. Rest at the bottom of your deep squat for one to two seconds and then extend up to a standing position.
3) Put Pressure on Your Joints
Another huge factor around increased sedentary behavior and stiffness is osteoporosis. To delay the demineralizing of your bones, the maintenance of weight-bearing activities is absolutely key. This is why I always encourage older runners to keep on running! While modifications to volume or intensity may be in order, it’s completely possible to keep on going when you follow healthy habits like the ones in this article.
My top three tips for maintaining pressure on your joints are to walk a lot, participate in some form of resistance training, and if you’re young, work tirelessly to build up your bone bank (aka jumping a lot). If you’re interested, I’ve got an in-depth guide to safe and effective impact training for you here. The main theme is that you should never shy away from stressing the body simply because you’re aging. Maintaining this intensity will be the very thing that saves your mobility as you grow older. I’ve got clients in their 70s who are still doing jump squats for goodness sake!
Make time for physical activity when you’re young, so you don’t have to waste it being immobile later on.
While there are certain elements of aging we can’t avoid, there are still plenty of things we can do to prevent stiffness in the later years. If you’re serious about maintaining activity well into your 70s and 80s, take these three habits and run with them. Sit up often, move intentionally, and never be afraid to put pressure on your joints. These three strategies alone will take you further than any pill you can find behind a counter. The best part? They’re completely free!
Why not start taking your joint health more seriously today?