Balance. We all need it, and most of us don’t have as much as we could. We don’t practice it, because why would we? We can’t PR in balance. It’s hard to measure the power or strength of our balance. In fitness, we talk about many things, but balance isn’t usually one of them.
Balance is usually not on the forefront of our thoughts, and lack of balance is only seen as a problem if we fall or injure ourselves. There are so many things to spend our time on, why try to fit this one in, too?
I’m going to save the many arguments for how balance is integral to health. For now, one reason to work on balance is simply because it’s fun!
I opened my passenger side door of the Jeep, scraping off a top layer snow. Thankfully, since my friend and I had just been on a winter hike, I was still wearing my snow gear, because when I stepped out, I was in it up to my knees. Fortunately, there was no drop off, but my friend’s Jeep was well and truly stuck. She’d edged off the hard packed snow on the road and gotten sucked in to the side, wheels spinning in snow up to her wheel well. Neither one of us were quite sure what to do, but it was clear that staying inside the Jeep wasn’t going to get us anywhere.
There was no shovel, so I put my mittens on and started to excavate the wheel. In less time than I expected, the wheel was visible and I was able to clear a little path in front of the wheel as well. My friend put it in gear, and started to move forward… Right back into the piled snow. She could not get enough traction to get out of the soft snow and back on the hard packed (but still snowy and icy road). This happened a couple of times, and we clearly weren’t going anywhere. That happened to be the moment that a very kind family with a very large truck drove by and saw our predicament and pulled us out.
What struck me in the midst of this fairly short interlude was my friend. She sat in the Jeep the entire time. She seemed a little upset by being stuck, but she didn’t do one thing about it. I don’t think she had any idea what to do, so she did nothing. I can’t imagine watching someone dig out your car by hand and not even attempting to help, but there we were.
I don’t want to write this story just to put my friend on the spot. It occurred to me how many times in my life I have been the one sitting there, not sure what to do, and therefore doing nothing. That moment made me thankful for a change that has happened in the last 8-10 years in my life, where I started to realize that you don’t have all of the answers to get started. All you have to do is take the first step. Then the next one. Sometimes you don’t know where it will lead, but at least you aren’t stuck anymore. In this case, I didn’t know how to get the car out, but I knew that I had to get out of the car to see. Ultimately, my efforts were not the reason that we got out, but because I was out of the car digging around, it was obvious that we needed some help. When the very nice family drove by, they could easily see that when they offered to get us out. Had they not come by, I may have eventually realized that the needed traction may have been attainable though the judicious use of floor mats. Either way, one step leads to another.
One of the best things in my life has been realizing that I don’t need all the answers to get started. Realizing that not getting something right immediately is not true failure. Trying and learning something in the process is in itself a success, even if it doesn’t quite lead to the outcome you want. True failure is never trying. That is when we never get unstuck.
It is January 2nd, and it is time for everyone to put down the holiday treats and pick up the weights! I know it’s cliché, and maybe you are too evolved to be one of the hordes that is suddenly re-focusing on diet and exercise, but I am not. Therefore, even though fitness is one of the most overdone topics this time of year, I’m diving in.
It begs the question, though. What is fitness? We talk about it all the time, and have some idea of what we associate with it, but have we truly stopped to define it for ourselves? What does it actually mean to be fit?
After extensive research (i.e. a couple of Google searches), I found a few definitions. I think that “fitness” means different things to different people, but these are some good starting points for discussion.
A dictionary definition: the condition of being fit and healthy.
Ooookay… Well, that really narrowed it down.
This article mentions five components of fitness: cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition, and flexibility. It discusses some of the exercises that you can do to address each one. Another source (that requires payment for the full information) starts to list some of the different tests and measure that you can use to gauge your level of prowess in each of these areas.
Of the stuffy definitions that I found, I think the CDC’s is best: The ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue, and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and respond to emergencies.
Google also tells me that related searches include, “How much exercise do you need per week?”, “What activity is considered a baseline activity?”, “What is moderate aerobic activity?”, and “How many hours of exercise is recommended?”
My point being that we often simply put exercise and “fitness” as another item on our to-do list. It’s going to the gym, doing that workout video. It’s organizing your workouts into “arm day”, “leg day”, and “ab day”. It’s these lifts and those interval sets. If we have arrived at “fitness”, it’s a VO2 max at a certain level. It’s the ability to run a mile in a certain amount of time. It’s fitting into that particular size of jeans. It’s a low resting heart rate or six pack abs.
If you ask me, there is a bit of usefulness in some of these measures, but more than anything it obscures what’s really important about fitness. Let’s go back to the CDC’s definition of fitness. To paraphrase, fitness is the ability to live the life you want to live. It’s being able to climb the mountain, or play with the grandkids, or finish that project around your home. It’s the ability to lift and move things that need to be lifted and moved without straining your back. It’s the ability to work and play at whatever level you want.
True fitness is not something that goes into one block of exercise time each day, even if you are one of those rarified few that consistently has that block each day. True strength, flexibility, endurance and all the rest comes from moving well and moving often throughout each day. It’s standing to sort through the mail instead of sitting. It’s getting down on the floor with the kids rather than supervising from the couch. It’s exploring outside instead of channel surfing inside. It’s part of everything we do every day.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to the gym. The gym is fine as one small aspect of an overall picture. However, true fitness is being able to live the life we want to live. If that is the case, the only way to train it is in all aspects of our daily life, not so many minutes per week.
I suppose this title doesn’t sound like much of an announcement. I’m sure you already knew it. However, we tend to think of it the other way around. Most of us act like problems lead to lack of movement. I often see older adults who tell me that they choose to limit some of their movements because they don’t feel safe. They feel that their balance is lacking and they might fall. But what if it is a lack of movement that led to the largest portion of the balance problems in the first place?
In the limited amount of time that most kids have to move, they are only allowed to move in limited ways. They don’t get a chance to spin around or move upside down. It’s interesting that the article notes that the muscular system can atrophy due to this lack of use*, but so can the vestibular system. The article raises a lot of concern about the lack of movement that we are enforcing on our children. We are so concerned about safety that we being detrimental to children’s development. There is a lot to think about here in terms of what can be done differently.
I also think that it raises a thought and some hope for what we can do differently ourselves as adults. If kids are seeing thickening of the fluid of their inner ears due to lack of movement, then how much of the same changes in adults are due to age, and how many are due to more and more restricted movement? There is a certain amount of loss of balance, etc, that is due to aging and can’t be changed. However, I think a lot of it (and perhaps even a majority of it) is due to lack of use, not age.
Here’s something to try: stand up and turn in a circle. If you haven’t done this in a while, take it slowly, because it can make you dizzy. If you are feeling pretty good, and you move a lot, try a couple of good spins. You remember letting your arms fly up when you would spin around as a kid? Turns out that’s still fun as an adult! It’s good to be cautious when introducing (or re-introducing) movements that you’re not used to, but don’t use it as an excuse not to do anything.
*And there is a LOT to say about the ways that the muscular system degenerates from our limited repertoire of movements.
Have you ever noticed how much our day revolves around what time it is? I suppose it’s understandable. We are expected to be at work a certain time, some of us have appointments throughout the day, perhaps we have plans to meet someone at a certain time. What time does the store open or close? What time is the movie? And so on.
I suppose none of that will change very soon, but I was interested to note lately that it also plays into another issue that we currently have (“we” being modern Western- and specifically American- society) of not really paying attention to what our bodies are telling us. In physical therapy, I often find that people had a lot of warnings prior their injury, but they didn’t recognize them. I used to frequently have little nagging pains, but if they didn’t really stop me, I would ignore them. We are very disconnected from what our bodies really need.
The way that plays into time is something like this. I’ll get hungry, and I’ll see that it’s only 8:45 am. I’ll tell myself, “That’s too early. I just had breakfast. I can’t be hungry yet.” Or I’ll be getting tired, and I look at the clock, and it’s 7:00 pm. Of course, “That’s too early, I shouldn’t be tired yet.”
Honestly, how do those responses help me? Time should not dictate how I feel! If I’m hungry and it’s only been a short time since breakfast, it would be a lot more helpful to note that if I’m hungry that early, I should consider what I had for breakfast. Was it enough food? Was it the right kind of food? Eating appropriately in response to those questions is much more in tune with what my body is telling me.
If it is early and I am that tired already, I should consider what I’ve been doing for the last couple of days. Have I been wearing myself too thin? Going to bed too late or getting up too early, or both? Have I been getting ready for bed in a way that really allows me to get quality sleep? (For example, less screen time right before bed!)
As I was thinking about some of this, I ran into a Labor Day weekend that was unexpectedly laid back. (I wanted to hike a 14’er with some friends. My asthma said no. I stayed home.*) I decided to not worry about time. It was interesting. I actually put my clocks out of sight. I don’t know what time I went to bed or what time I got up. I don’t know whether it was lunch time when I ate. It was fantastic! I have no idea how many hours I slept, but I can tell you that because I listened to my body and not the clock, I felt so well rested! I ate when I was hungry, and didn’t eat when I wasn’t. Another way of listening to my body rather than the clock.
It’s strange how revolutionary this feels to me, yet it was the only natural way to do things for most of the eons of the world. I know that it is very rare when we can actually find an opportunity to do something like this, but I highly recommend it if you can ever carve out a day or two to do it. If you try it, let me know what you think!
*It was actually really nice to stay home, so sympathy- while always appreciated- is totally unwarranted!
I’m pretty sure that a relatively new blog with very few posts should probably not talk about the toilet, but that’s what’s on my mind today. I know that this is not normal for most people, but before you write me off completely, I think that you should know that there are a lot of biomechanics involved that are important to think about.
This topic is brought to you courtesy of some soul randomly wondering why the toilet got it’s name. “Is it because it’s a small toil every time you are in there?” I don’t know the true origins of the word, and my nerdiness doesn’t quite extend to looking that up for the purposes of this post. Sure, whoever said that was trying to joke, but unfortunately she touched on something that is too close to the truth.
The thing is, the angle of a toilet doesn’t allow the proper mechanics for what you should be doing there. I know this is a topic that isn’t that fun to talk about, but (Haha, but! Maybe it is a little fun to talk about, with a low enough maturity level!) Ahem, where was I? Yes, that this is a very important topic, whether it seems appropriate or not. I am a physical therapist and therefore very concerned about the mechanics of ALL movements, even the least glamorous! This problem with the angle means that we are putting excessive strain on the pelvic floor muscles. It is, of course, a lot more complicated than just the toilet, but our lack of squatting ability in general leads to weakness in the pelvic floor. Immediate problems include incontinence, hemorrhoids, and bloating and more. Other significant problems include hip and knee pain, including arthritis, back pain and problems.
The moral of this story is that one very easy way to improve a very significant movement problem in most of our lives is to improve our position on the toilet. For further (overly simplified) explanation of the mechanics as well as one idea for a solution, I give you this funny- and a little disturbing!- video. Warning, you can’t unwatch it. (Yes, I do use a Squatty Potty, and it really is pretty fantastic. No, they don’t have any idea who I am nor do they care or give me anything any time I recommend it.)
In my head, it seems like the sun should have been warming the gritty sandstone under my fingers, but the reality is that it was cold that day. It was my first day ever climbing outside, and sheer adrenaline was enough to keep me warm when I was climbing, but I remember shivering during the down times. That chilly day in late May was my first time on rock, and I wanted my rock climbing experience to be over. I was tired of standing around with my heart in my throat either because I was on a rope or about to get on a rope.
On our third climb, we had to walk out on a ledge to access the climb. Sure, it was wide enough to stand with our feet parallel to each other, and yeah, the drop off wasn’t very steep or long, but did you hear me? We had to walk out onto the ledge! To climb! I gritted my teeth to walk out there and tie in, but the last thing I wanted to do was go up the wall. I had not made any formal decisions about climbing; I was simply trying to survive the day and wondering what had possessed me to be out there in the first place. Somewhere past the survival mode I was patting myself on the back for trying something new and uncomfortable and promising myself that I wouldn’t have to do it again.
So there I was. On the ledge, and ready to climb. That is to say, I was tied in and on belay. Mentally, I was just going to give it a quick try so that I could legitimately go back over to the backpacks and try to stay warm until someone mercifully said the day was over. I don’t really remember the first few feet of the climb. Find a few stupid small spots for the feet. Apparently there were some hand holds, because I was at least twenty feet off the ground when I reached The Hump.
There was this bulge in the rock, and I would have been willing to swear to you that there was no way up this thing. Every time I tried to place my foot on the rock, it would scrape off. Any little handhold I could find was not enough to leverage myself up any farther. You know what? I was okay with it. After all, I had tried, right? Good enough. I was content to be lowered back down, but there was a catch. Standing at the bottom, my belayer and instructors were being so great and offering so much encouragement that I found myself unable to disappoint them without a little more effort. So I reached and scraped and reached and scraped some more. Tried from this angle and from that angle. Didn’t really gain any ground, but I kept trying because I had nothing to lose. Who cares if I don’t make it up the stupid rock? I just didn’t want to give up too soon.
I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but somehow I made some sort of a move that actually worked! I was over The Hump! I couldn’t believe it. One hold at a time, I approached the anchor. I got a little stuck on one more spot, but this time I was much more determined to tackle that sucker. There was nothing like the feeling at that anchor. Adrenaline, still scared and not sure about being that far up a rock on a rope, but also sheer elation.
I’m not sure how much I realized it at that moment, but I was not the same person when I came down that climb as the one that started up it. You can’t be, once you realize that you are so much stronger than you think. It is a lesson that I have had to learn different times in different ways, but that day on the rock was the first time for me. I don’t get to climb as much as I’d like, but I will always love rock for that reason. It’s a beautiful thing.
I was also privileged to hear someone else’s story this weekend of how she became an athlete in her 50’s. She signed up for a bike ride that was way beyond her current capability and then was committed to train for it. She started with 3.5 miles the first day that she rode, and then had to build from there. Four months later, she was riding for a week for many miles per day over mountain passes. I’m a sucker for those kinds of stories. Knowing that one small step at a time, we can build ourselves into something that we didn’t know was possible. I am now a recovering couch potato that rock climbs. You never know where you can end up.