I have heard many times people as young as 40 blame old age for their painful joints.
Here’s the reality check.
Sore joints have less to do with age and more with lifestyle. As we get older, lifestyle becomes more important because the body is simply less forgiving of stupidity. Our joints, when used well, are designed to last at least 90 years (some scientists say it’s as much as 130 years, but I’ll err on the conservative side). The fine print however is, the joints will last you 90 years if, and only if, used according to the manual. And the manual to the human body very clearly states that the body is meant to move. A lot.
Not ‘can move once in awhile if you deign to get off the couch’.
Not ‘can move for 5 minutes a day, from bed to car to office chair to car to couch to bed’.
Not ‘shuffle around the supermarket’s smooth polished perfectly horizontal floor and call it a ‘walk”.
No. The body is designed to move often, vigorously, walk on uneven surfaces, uphill, downhill, run, sprint, hang, climb, jump, lift things, carry things for various distances, throw things, put things down, move things around. And rest, replenish with good fuel and then do it all again.
The body is an antifragile system.
For a full article on antifragility (originally coined by philosopher Nassim Taleb) go HERE
The body is a system that benefits from random stressors. It gets better when subjected to stresses that it can recover from. However, antifragile systems NEED stress in order to survive, improve and thrive. Without regular stress, an antifragile system such as your body (and your mind, by the way) will become fragile and deteriorate rapidly.
And that’s what’s happening to you when you don’t use your body according to it’s specification requirements. It first becomes fragile and then degrades fast.
Note: excessive stress can be as bad as inactivity. Some extreme forms of activity such as competitive gymnastics, CrossFit etc can wear out your joints faster than the allocated 90+ years. So again, it pays to use the body according to specifications, rather than abuse it through inactivity or excessive stress.
In addition to being antifragile, the body also adapts to its environment, or as Katy Bowman puts it in her book Move Your DNA (highly, highly recommend that book, by the way) ‘You are how you move’.
So, imagine if I sat down for hours on end day after day after day, and did little in the way of movement. My body would function and work very differently. It would become adapted, most of all, to sitting in a chair. It would, of course, suffer (because sitting in a chair is not what this antifragile system is designed for), but it would adapt. The muscles will shorten, some will atrophy, the joint range of motion will decrease, some compensation structures will form (the hump on the back of your neck, for example), and as my body becomes better and better adapted to sitting (and more and more fragile), it becomes worse and worse adapted to moving. And eventually, as I like to tell my clients, it will move from an office chair into a wheelchair, and then into a hospital bed.
Hence all the ‘hip pain’ you might feel when occasionally moving around could be the result of adaptation to excessive sitting if that’s what you make your body do.
Now, our bodies do become less forgiving with age. Unless you’re a teenager, you are no longer able to survive on chips, ice cream and coke, sit around all day, dance all night and then pop up in the morning and go to work, without paying a heavy price. Just the same, your body will not as easily forgive excessive sitting down, as it did when you were a teen.
When you’re in your childhood, teens and 20s, your body’s main priority is to survive and reproduce. It can live on rice and shoe leather if it has to, as long as it survives and breeds. It can sit for hours and not feel stiff. because the imperative to reproduce will make it put all the available resources towards making you mobile, energetic and attractive. And if you put on weight as a teenager or a young person, the body readily forgives you as soon as you start eating right and exercising again, and gets back on track with incredible speed. There’s nothing easier than getting into shape when you are a teen or in your 20s.
But once that ripe period of desperate mating potential has passed, all bets are off. Now you have to work to maintain your health. And the older you get, the less forgiving your body is of dumb choices.
So if you abused your body all your young life and got away with it only because the body was desperate enough to survive, then suddenly, at 50 the body says ‘enough!’ – it isn’t ‘old age’. It’s a wake up call.
To avoid blaming age and feeling powerless when you hit 40s, 50s and beyond, read your body’s user manual and use it as per instructions. Here’s a good place to start. If after 12 weeks of this you still feel (and look) the same, then you might consider blaming old age, genes, the government, and anything else
- Walk at least 30-60 min every day, preferably on uneven and hilly surface. Preferably in minimalist flat – soled footwear. If no hills available nearby, use stairs.
- Avoid sitting still for longer than 60 minutes. Get up and move for 2-5 minutes every hour.
- Stretch or move your body through full ranges of motion (yoga, mobility drills, basic bodyweight exercises like squats) for at least 5 minutes daily or every other day. A perfect time to do it is between bouts of sitting. Example: 5-10 reps of frog blossom or 5-10 reps of dive dog or 3-5 reps each side of elbow to foot lunge
- Lift moderately heavy things (including your own bodyweight) 2-3 times per week for 20-30 minutes. Use correct technique to avoid injury. A kettlebell complex like this one will do the trick. If your hips are too painful for that, you can use some of these exercises. And if all of these still cause you pain, you need to do some rehab which normally takes about 12 weeks for full restoration of joint function (many people underdo their rehab and reinjure their hips, don’t be those people). To make your rehab not boring and fit seamlessly into your training, get in touch for an individually tailored functional rehabilitation plan.
- Sprint every 7-10 days. Perform 3-7 sets of 15-30- second sprints, resting 3-5 minutes in between. Hill sprints are safer than flat surface sprints, because you run slower and use your glutes and hamstrings more. You can also use jump rope, high knees, stationery bike, elliptical, treadmill, even Kettlebell Swing or Snatch to produce the sprinting effect.
- Eat like an adult and sleep like a baby. This site is a good place to start if unsure of how to eat and sleep.
That’s it. Do the above and you’ll forget ‘old age’, and will be using your joints for a long, long time to come.
Here’s to your health and happiness deep into 130s