Three things you can do every day as a gift to your body

Three things you can do every day as a gift to your body

Three things you can do every day as a gift to your body

Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen.”

― Agent Dale Cooper, Twin Peaks TV series

As we age, we realize that easy, pain free movement is a gift to be treasured and preserved. Here are three things everyone should do, every day, to preserve this gift.

It might not be fun “bending over backwards” for someone else, but for yourself, you’ll be glad you did.

First thing…
People should bend backwards every day. We spend our lives sitting and bending over to pick things up. Whether it’s in the car, at work in front of a computer, or home when we’re watching TV at night after a day’s work. We’re always in a forward bend – a rounded position – when we do those things, right?
What we rarely do is bend backwards fully. And a lot of times what happens as we age is, if we’re not able to bend backwards fully, then folks tend to have more trouble with their back and neck.
Case in point, a patient came in and when I asked him to bend backwards, his motion was painful and limited, which wasn’t surprising, because he kind of fit the pattern that I described earlier, somebody who spent a lot of time either sitting or riding in the car.
And then we got him to a point with one simple exercise where he was able to bend backwards, farther and without pain. He immediately reported feeling better. My belief for that gentleman, because I’ve seen it happen plenty of times before, is that his ability to bend backwards is correlated with how his back feels. If he’s able to bend backwards fully and not have pain doing it, his back is probably going to feel pretty good. If his back is feeling poorly, he probably won’t be able to bend backwards as well. The two go hand in hand.
Therefore, if people make bending backwards a habit of before it becomes difficult to bend backwards then they can likely decrease the risk of having that kind of trouble. And of course, there are specific ways that I teach people to do this. Check out the video below.

I’ve had plenty of people ask me if it’s “normal” for moving a certain way to be painful. My response is to say that while that is common, it is not normal. Being able to move all parts of your body through a full range of motion without pain is normal.

If it is painful for you to bend either your back or neck backwards, then that’s a good reason to come see me. Restoring your ability to bend backwards will likely prove helpful in making your back or neck feel better.
Second of the three things: Squat.
Squatting is a normal pattern of human movement. When we’re toddlers, and we’re first learning to walk, if we see something that we want to pick up, instinctively, we squat our bottoms all the way down with our feet flat on the floor, pick it up, and move along our happy way. This keeps our weight centered over our feet, and that makes it easier to balance.
If a toddler was to bend forwards to pick something up, that would shift their weight (center of gravity) in front of them, making it harder to balance, and likely cause them to topple over!
Toddlers know instinctively to squat. Toddlers keep their hands in the air when walking to help them balance and to catch themselves should they fall. As we age, it is common for our balance to decline. One sign of a decline in balance is someone holding their hands up in the air at their sides, like how a toddler does. Another sign of impaired balance is an inability to rise from sitting without use of the hands. These are things that I encounter regularly in my practice, and improving on these deficits helps a person to decrease their risk of falling.
There is a common myth that squatting is bad for our knees. This is likely because for many people their ability to squat can be limited by knee pain. It is my belief that maintaining one’s ability to squat fully, or regaining it if it has been lost, is a sign of good knee health.
For grown-up Paul, it’s one of my life goals – the rest of my life, I want to maintain the ability to squat fully. And I do it on a regular basis. Just yesterday, I was rotating my car tires and instead of bending over or grabbing a chair, I squatted down fully to both take the tires off my car and place them in their new position.
If you’re not able to squat fully come and see me. Because there’s likely reason for that. And oftentimes, it’s fixable.
I’ve seen plenty of people over the years who say, “I can’t squat.” I will address that by determining the cause of this difficulty. It is typically due to either stiffness in the lower back or legs, weakness, or impaired balance. It is often a combination of these things. After correcting these deficits, they learn that can still squat like a toddler.
The last of the three things that I would say to do every day, is to walk mindfully.
A lot of times when we’re walking, we’re not thinking about how we’re moving, we’re just focusing on getting from point A to point B.
One cue I often give people is to imagine that there is a string attached to the top of their head that is lifting them into a taller standing posture. (Walking in a forward bent position is an indication of balance trouble.) Something we see often is someone scuffing their feet as they step forward. This is typically met with a knee that stays slightly bent through the gait cycle. In a normal walking pattern, when one foot steps forward the heel touches down first, and then the front part of the foot touches down. When I see someone not doing this, I often will have the person to focus on lifting their toes and straightening their knee as they step forward. Exaggerating this will produce a nice stretching sensation in the calf.
Then, propelling ourselves forward by pushing off the ball of the foot becomes a different way of moving that is more active. This helps with things like calf flexibility, balance, and ankle strength.
As a physical therapist, I want to observe how someone changes their movement patterns based on my advice. Often, I will ask a person to move a certain way and they may have difficulty doing it. That’s why I want to see what somebody’s doing when they’re doing it, so I can coach them to memorize how to remember the feeling as it’s done.
But go ahead and “try this at home.” These are three safe, simple movement wellness gifts for you. And should you have any difficulty with these things, then I am here for you. You can take the three things further with more in-depth therapeutic exercise here.