The Signs of Declining Physical Function
The cumulative effect of aging and physical inactivity will affect people in many different ways. We certainly do not all age the same way and chronological aging has little bearing on each person’s individual level of function. However, all things being equal, those who are able to remain physically active tend to manage their daily activities and any medical conditions better than those who are inactive. Those who do not exercise or move their bodies much may find their physical abilities slowly decline over time until suddenly they can’t do a physical task they used to be able to do.
Often, new clients call us because they have a ‘wake-up call’ when they come to the realization that their physical abilities are declining. For instance, someone may not noticed they have lost speed and quick acceleration in walking until they need to move quickly in order to catch a bus that is about to pull away. Slow, accumulated losses of balance may not be noticed until someone has a fall stepping off a curb. A loss of strength and power in the lower body and core may not be noticed until getting out of a chair becomes a struggle. Although it’s never too late to get started training for the physical challenges of life, it is ideal to try to stay a few steps ahead of physical decline.
It is helpful to know what tasks we need to be able to do if we are working on avoiding physical impairment to our daily function.
The nine physical functioning activities (U.S. Supplement on Aging; Functional Aging Institute):
1) Walking a quarter mile (almost half a kilometre/approx. 6 city blocks)
2) Walking up 10 steps without resting
3) Standing or being on your feet for about two hours
4) Sitting for about two hours
5) Stooping, crouching, or kneeling
6) Reaching up over your head
7) Using your fingers to grasp or handle
8) Reaching out as it to shake someone’s hand
9) Lifting or carrying something as heavy as 10 pounds
It is a good idea to practice gripping exercises (i.e. squeezing a ball), longer distance walking (6 blocks or more), balance exercises, carry and walk exercises (i.e. starting with 5 pounds and walking across the room and back), stair climbing (sets of stairs and then rest) as well as mobility exercises.
Try these mobility exercises to keep your function as optimal as possible:
Overhead Reach: Face a wall, with your elbows bent. Gently and slowly, starting with your elbows bent and palms on the wall, try reaching your arms over head while keeping at least one part of each hand on the wall. If you can’t go all the way, just reach as far as you can, over time building your ability to go further. If you have an upper body joint condition, you will need to consult with your physiotherapist to modify this exercise.
Modified Downward Dog on wall: Stand at arm’s length in front of a wall. Place both hands against the wall, shoulder width apart, elbows straight. Keeping both knees straight, and feet firmly planted on the floor, slowly lean toward the ground, bending from the hips. Keeping your knees and elbows straight, imagine you are pushing backwards with your buttocks. Relax your neck and let your head hang towards the floor.