No one likes the effects of aging. The body aches and the joints get stiffer. And these effects are happening at an earlier age. Our lifestyles are making us feel older than we are…or need to be.
Want to reverse these effects? Feel more vitality again? Here’s how.
In my quest to help you live your healthiest life, I put on my corrective exercise specialist hat to give you four simple exercises. They’re easy to do and they work. Just a couple of minutes a day of each of these exercises will help you reduce the negative effects of our modern lifestyle.
We’ll begin down low with the feet and calves (lower legs), then move up to the back (plus hips and hamstrings) and finish with the upper body (chest, shoulders and neck). For maximum benefit, always start feet first.
How to Make the Feet Feel Good
Sore feet are no good. When our feet hurt, we are less active, less productive and sometimes cranky because we don’t feel like moving.
Part of the reason our feet hurt is because they’ve been immobilized by shoes. We wear shoes so often that it’s like they’re in a cast. Over time, this weakens the muscles, tendons and ligaments of our feet. This locks up our Achilles tendon and calf muscles. As Katy Bowman, author of Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement put it,
“Years of sentencing their feet to shoes leaves people with significant atrophies in the muscles of their toes and the muscles between the bones of the foot (which are the arch-shapers), as well as (semi-) permanent shortening of the Achilles’ tendon and calf muscle group.”
How do we alleviate foot pain and overcome Achilles and calf tightness? Two exercises.
1. Massage Your Soles (Feet)
Grab a tennis ball and take a seat. Take off your shoes and socks. Once seated, drape your foot over the ball. Then SLOWLY move your foot a little bit forward as you massage your sole. Then, move it back and side to side. Gradually work your way around the entire sole of both feet as shown below.
By massaging your soles with a tennis ball, you move the bones within your feet, which relax the tendons, ligaments and muscles. Plus you stimulate blood flow which makes your feet feel good. If your feet are tender when you first do this, it means your feet REALLY need it. Don’t be afraid. Gentle massages get rid of the pain in time. Go easy.
Try this everyday for 1-2 minutes for a week and see how your feet feel. If you want to advance the massage further, try the GooseBumps massage balls.
2. Stretch Your Calves (Lower Legs)
To undo the negative effects of too much shoe wearing, especially high heels, let’s stretch the calves. This stretch may just save you from surgery. One of my clients, a foot doctor, told me that many lower leg surgeries can be prevented with one simple stretch.
Here’s how Katy Bowman instructs it and how I’d recommend it be done too.
“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 body upright (shoulders and hips over heels), step forward with the opposite foot.”
If your muscles are really tight, begin like this. Socks are OK and bare foot is better.
To advance the stretch further, if your muscles are not too tight, try it like this with the opposite foot in front.
Try this everyday for 1-2 minutes for two weeks and your heels and calves should get looser. Then you can step it up for even better results, using a foam roller to get rid of the aches and pains of the lower leg.
(On Inspired Living Archive: For more on How to Get Rid of Aches and Pains to Improve Performance, click here.)
Now let’s address the back, hips and hamstrings. According to expert research at the National Academy of Sports Medicine, nearly 80% of American adults experience back pain at some point in time and it’s often related to hip and hamstring tightness.
The next exercise is highly recommended. In fact, one of my clients, who is 70, has been doing it for several weeks and says he feels fantastic! In fact, his worries about getting up and down comfortably have completely been erased.
3. Get Your “Feet on the Wall” (Back, Hips & Hamstrings)
Too much sitting is bad for our health. One of the reasons too much sitting is dangerous is because the muscles in our hip area lose their natural range of motion over time. When our hips don’t align like they’re supposed to, we get tight hamstrings, a tight groin and often back and hip issues.
To overcome the problem, try the “feet on the wall” exercise. If you don’t have wall space, a door is OK too.
Here’s what Katy says from Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement:
“Sit sideways to the wall and then rotate your body to get your legs straight up the wall. If your hamstrings are especially tight, your pelvis will tilt backwards, forcing your waistband to the ground. In this case, back your body away from the wall…Keeping your legs straight, relax your legs away from each other until you feel a ‘stretch’ in the inner thigh.”
To help you along, here’s two pics. I’d recommend you begin with picture one to focus on stretching your hamstrings.
Then, gradually progress to picture two to stretch your groin. This exercise may be intense at times, so go EASY.
Like the other exercises, do the stretch for 1-2 minutes everyday for a couple of weeks. Try to lightly challenge yourself after one week. In time, you should be able to move with more ease and some folks who couldn’t touch the floor from a standing position, may be able to with practice!
4. Give Your Angel Wings (Chest, Shoulders & Neck)
If you sit at a desk, use a computer, or look at your smartphone a lot, chances are pretty good that your shoulders and chest pull forward. Over time, this leads to what is called a “rounded shoulder – forward head” postural distortion. This type of distortion is associated with headaches, neck pain and shoulder pain; discomfort that no one wants.
One simple exercise to combat this “rounded shoulder – forward head” issue is angel wings.
Here’s how to do it. See picture below.
Begin seated on a stability ball.
Then, walk out until your upper body is virtually parallel with the floor. Next, reach your arms out to the sides with your palms up. Keeping your arms as straight as you can, move them parallel with the floor as you slowly motion your arms backwards, as if making a snow angel.
Repeat this slow motion for 1-2 minutes as you stretch out the chest and shoulder muscles. Don’t force it, ease into it with slow breathing. Do this moving stretch 1-2 minutes a day everyday for a couple of weeks.
OK. Let’s summarize the 4 simple stretches to regain some vitality.
- Massage Your Soles (Feet) – To help your feet feel good, use a tennis ball or GooseBumps massage ball. Gently roll your foot over the ball to loosen the bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles.
- Stretch Your Calves (Lower Legs) – For pain relief, try the simple calve stretch on a rolled towel or half foam roller.
- Get Your “Feet on the Wall” (Back, Hamstrings & Hips) – Your hips and back will feel better when you stretch your hamstrings and groin by getting your legs up and gently stretching them apart.
- Give Your Angel Wings (Chest, Shoulders & Neck) – The chest and shoulders love being stretched with angel motions on a stability ball. This helps free the upper body from aches and stiffness of modern life habits and improve posture.