How Just a Little More Movement Can Change Your Life

by

How Just a Little More Movement Can Change Your Life

by

It’s 2018, and according to public polling, topping the resolution list for most is the same thing: get more exercise!

I’ve been teaching movement for over twenty years, and one thing I’ve learned is that adherence to exercise programs is often thwarted by how we feel when we’re moving—sometimes our feet, knees, and hips don’t feel great when we exercise. Yes, we need to move more, but as any good physiotherapist will tell you, moving can be uncomfortable when we have areas of our body that don’t move well. So, this year, instead of starting with moving your whole body more, allow me to suggest a different place to begin: Let’s work on improving the movement in our stiff and achy parts so we can enjoy moving more!

The areas of the body most people report as limiting their motion are feet, knees, hips, and lower back. For the first few months of 2018, commit to doing these three moves daily—moves designed specifically to work toward strong feet, stable knees, dynamic hips, and an engaged core.

MOVE YOUR CALVES MORE

There are two things that shorten the length of your calf muscles: heeled shoes and sitting. Most of us have been in heeled shoes (yes, even those wearing “men’s shoes”—check out that inch-plus heel in the back!) and sitting most hours of our lives. Your calf muscles affect the mobility of the ankle and the knee joints, which in turn create pull on the pelvis and lower back. Thus, to create more movement within your body, this Calf Stretch packs quite a punch when it comes towards moving more of you.

Calf Stretch

Place a thick folded and rolled towel on the floor in front of you. Step onto the towel with a bare  foot, placing the ball of the foot on the top of the towel and keeping your heel on the floor. Adjust the foot so that it points straight forward. Keeping your torso upright, step forward with the opposite foot. Hold here for a minute, then repeat on the other side. For best results, do this throughout your day.

An easy way to get this part of your body moving more without needing an exercise is to find ramps and hills to walk up. With all the flat and level walkways and stairs we take, this part of the body quickly loses its ability to support the ranges of motion that the ankles and knees do best with.

STRAIGHTEN OUT YOUR UPPER BACK 

Excessive curvature of our upper backs may seem inevitable with age, but it’s not! Rather, it’s the shape created by the forces created by decades of sitting, little arm use, and numerous activities that coax our heads forward and down—driving, texting, typing, reading, even cooking! Start reversing this posture of habit with these exercises.

Rhomboid Pushups

  • This move will help you move the underused muscles of the upper back.
  • Start on your hands and knees, placing your knees and wrists directly below your hips and shoulders. Let your head and neck relax.
  • Slowly lower your upper spine toward the floor, which will bring the shoulder blades together.

Don’t squeeze your blades together. Instead, let gravity do the work. Once you have reached the “bottom” of the exercise (when your shoulder blades are together, move the upper spine toward the ceiling, spreading the shoulder blades apart.

This move is different than a cat/cow in yoga—the only parts moving are in your upper back. Don’t round the upper back or tuck the pelvis. Repeat a dozen times, focusing on maximizing the motion between the shoulder blades. 

Floor Angels

This is a beautiful stretch for moving the chest and shoulders in a new way.

Recline on a bolster or stacked pillows and reach your arms out to the sides, trying to get the backs of your hands to the floor. Keeping your elbows slightly bent, rotate the arms externally so the elbow lifts toward the ceiling and the thumb touches the floor. Once your chest can handle this stretch, slowly move your arms in a “snow angel” motion, i.e. toward your head, trying to keep your thumbs on the floor throughout. Repeat this motion ten times.

You don’t always have to stop what you’re doing to exercise; you can simply adjust your head and neck posture throughout the day. Changing movement habits alongside doing exercise to increase your mobility will result in bigger improvements over a shorter amount of time! Try incorporating the following move into your driving, typing, cooking, walking, and watching TV time! 

Head Ramp

Without lifting your chin, slide your chin back bringing your ears over your shoulders. This lengthens the back of your neck long (you’ll know you’re in position when you have at least one extra chin). Congratulations! You’ve added a motion that undoes some of that forward curvature of the upper spine!

BRING YOUR CORE TO LIFE

We tend to think of sit-ups, planks, and crunches as the only way to get the abs moving—but your torso can be challenged in ways that move it more dynamically.

Spinal Twist

Lie on your back with your head and shoulders bolstered with a pillow or blanket. Scoot your pelvis an inch or two to the right, then bring the right knee up over your hip. Rotate your pelvis to lower that knee across your body, stopping as soon as your ribcage lifts away from the ground, i.e. twist only as far as you can without taking the ribs with you—no forcing it.

If you find that your pelvis barely moves and your knee is nowhere near the floor, stack pillows so that the knee crossing over can rest on them. This will reduce the load on the spine and keep these muscles from tensing unnecessarily. Repeat on the other side.

Crescent Stretch

Lie on your back and reach your arms above your head until your hands touch the floor. Slowly shuffle your legs and arms to the right, keeping your pelvis level—don’t twist up off the ground—until your body makes a crescent shape. To deepen the stretch, cross your left ankle over the right. Stay here for thirty seconds, then uncross your feet and shuffle them back to center, bring your hands and arms back too. Repeat on the other side.

Core Flow

  • Get down to the floor and lie on your back
  • Roll to the right
  • Roll to the left
  • Lie on your back
  • Spinal twist both directions
  • Crescent stretch both directions
  • Roll to the right
  • Roll to the left
  • Stand up

Repeat three times.


THESE MOVES ARE MADE FOR WALKING

Isolated exercises are great, but the reason I give them is so that when you’re out moving in daily life (i.e. not exercising), more parts of you can be participating. Walking is a key movement, and now that you’re doing these exercises, a bout of walking can result in more movement. This year, work to increase how much you’re walking. This can be 15 minutes you do each morning—just get up and head out the door without eating or brushing your teeth. Just put on your shoes and GO! It could be adding a distance, like one mile, to an existing walk. Find a route that’s easily accessible to you. Purposeful walking—that is, walking to do a chore, is even better as it allows movement to be done outside of your exercise time. And consider adding a little Vitamin Community to your walks by walking with company. It’ll keep you occupied and accountable if you’re meeting with a friend or colleague to move together, and bonus: now your walking time is also your “hang out with friends” time. If you find walking painful, you may see improvement by doing the exercises laid out above—they’re designed to help you use more of your body on your walk, rather than relying on the stressed or sore points.

Katy Bowman is a biomechanist and bestselling author of eight books on human movement and alignment, including Move Your DNA, Dynamic Aging, and Movement Matters. Find more books and exercises on her website nutritiousmovement.com.

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