A common complaint as people age is that it becomes difficult to get up and down from the ground. In fact many people avoid situations where they have to get down on the ground out of fear that they may not be physically able to get back up! So what happens as we age that stops up from doing what was once such a natural part of life?
The phrase “use it or lose it” can help in answering this question. Our joints rely on movement for good health – so much so that if we don’t move them for a few weeks they start to show signs of degeneration. Movement is essential to move the fluid inside the joints around to all of the cartilage that lines the joints which in turn provides the nutrients that keep our cartilage healthy. If we limit our movement to half of what the joints are capable of, we deprive some of the cartilage of this nutrition and hence they start to degenerate.
As parents many people spend alot of time on the floor, however by the time their children are approaching their teenage years this need is diminished. Unfortunately not many of our other daily activities move the hips and knees into the positions that are similar to those we need to get us to and from the floor. The chairs that we spend many hours on don’t bend our hips and knees below 90 degrees, and as a result over the years we adapt to this lack of joint mobility.
Our joints are not the only areas affected by this “use it or lose it” mantra. The muscles have exactly the same reaction. What complicates this further is the fact that when we are on the ground, our muscles are in a shorter position and don’t have a good ability to develop force. Muscle develop strength specific to the length that they are trained. Most exercises train the leg muscles in a normal length or slightly outside of this length. This is where they have the greatest strength. When we put the muscles in a position where they don’t have a good ability to generate force, and they are not accustomed to developing force in this position they are destined to struggle and more often than not fail.
A simple way that you can try to add to your day to day activities that can help to overcome this is to practise standing and sitting into a chair without using your hands. As you become more comfortable with this, try to start reducing the height of the chair or bench that you use. The lower you go the more you will strengthen the muscles in this shortened position and move the joints into greater flexibility. Remember to do this gradually and progressively.