What do you think of when you hear the word “fitness”? Running marathons and mountain climbing? Playing sports and lifting weights? Stretching and curling yourself into challenging positions in yoga class? Those activities are great, especially if you find joy in doing them. But at its core, fitness is about mobility first.
Most of our lives, we’re sold the idea that being fit involves great feats of endurance, strength, stamina, and flexibility. The stream of images in the media to support this idea is endless. But physical fitness is more than those things, and simpler.
Mobility vs. Flexibility
Throughout my career teaching Pilates and other movement systems, I’ve heard countless people say things like, “I’m not very flexible,” or “I’ve never been very strong.” But often, our limited definitions of “flexible” and “strong” are holding us back from becoming just that.
Your body is a collection of integrated systems. Every system needs to show up to the party every day if you’re going to have a good time. And for those of us who have made it to age 60, I think we’ve earned our good time!
What Is Mobility?
Fitness, fundamentally, is about whole-body mobility. Mobility means moving freely and easily through a full range of motion in all of your joints. When your joints are moving as they were intended to, all of your muscles are too.
Your musculoskeletal system interacts with other systems – respiratory, digestive, circulatory, and so on – to help your body do what it’s supposed to do. This is why we have expressions like, “If you don’t move it, you lose it,” and “The more you move, the better you feel.”
Making Daily Movement Your Fitness Foundation
The good news here is that doing little things consistently can make a big difference for your whole body. As we age, these little things become critical for maintaining our mobility and continuing to do what we love to do.
Having a simple, daily movement routine to maintain mobility and engage your body’s systems is the foundation for any fitness goal. In more playful terms, we get to do bigger things if we start by wiggling the little things.
Moving in a thoughtful, balanced way on a daily basis has both short-term and long-term benefits for our health and wellness. And remember: It’s always easier to maintain our mobility than it is to regain it after we’ve lost it.
A daily movement routine:
Reduces inflammation and the achy joints that accompany it.
Stimulates our body’s systems and helps us feel more energized.
Encourages breathing and a mindful start to our day.
Creates balance by engaging our muscles.
Establishes a habit of moving more and sitting less.
15 Minutes of Movement a Day Keeps the Pain Away
This short video routine will guide you through three simple sets of movement to perform when you wake up in the morning that can impact your day in a big way. Or, use the guidelines below to work through the routine at your own pace. No special props are needed. In fact, you can do most of these things without ever leaving your bed.
These exercises are safe and appropriate for people with osteoporosis. Remember to move and breathe slowly, and to never move through pain. When implementing any new exercise routine, be sure to consult your physician with any questions or concerns.
For the exercises below, repeat each movement four or five times before moving on to the next one.
#1 Scan and Stretch Your Body While Lying Flat
Lie flat on your back in bed or on a mat on the floor. Place a flat pillow or folded towel under your head to maintain spinal alignment. Close your eyes and slowly scan your body from head to toe. Take note of the weight of your body and how each part of you is making contact with the surface below you.
Ankles and feet
First, make circles with your ankles in one direction, then the other.
Next, flex and point your toes slowly several times, engaging your entire foot each time.
Last, crunch your toes as though you are making fists with your feet, then spread them out wide.
Head and neck
First, slowly turn your chin from one shoulder to the other as though you were shaking your head “no.” Be sure to go slowly.
Next, draw small circles in each direction with your nose, as though you were drawing a circle on a foggy window.
Last, gently move your chin and eyes downward while lengthening the back of your neck (a gentle press into the pillow or towel can help), then turn your chin from one shoulder to the other again.
First, reach your arms and legs out as though your body is a big “X.”
Next, stretch and breathe into your whole body on an inhale, then feel your body relax and release into the bed on an exhale.
Then, stretch and reach with your right arm and leg on an inhale and let them relax on the exhale, then do the same on the left.
Last, finish with one final whole body stretch on the inhale and release into the bed on the exhale.
#2 Open and Elongate Your Upper Body While Sitting Upright
Sit on the edge of your bed with your feet flat on the ground. You can also sit on a chair or on a mat on the floor with your legs crossed. Be sure to have a long upright spine.
Hands and forearms
First, reach your arms directly in front of you.
Next, just as you did with your feet earlier, slowly flex and extend your wrists, circle them in each direction, make fists and then spread your fingers wide.
Shoulders and arms
First, roll your shoulders forward, then backward.
Next, touch your fingertips to your shoulders as though you were creating chicken wings, and circle your elbows forward, then backward.
Last, do full arm circles forward, then backward.
Waist and hips
First, reach one arm straight up overhead and then reach gently toward the opposite side keeping both sides of your waist long. Repeat with the other arm.
Then cross one ankle over the other knee and gently breathe into a hip and glute stretch. Repeat with the other leg.
#3 Mobilize Your Spine and Lower Body While Standing Up
Stand near a dresser, table or sturdy chair for support (as needed) with your feet directly underneath you, but not touching. Notice how every inch of your feet feels. Be sure that your weight is distributed evenly between both feet.
Toes and feet
First, gently rock forward and backward and then side to side, feeling all the edges of your feet on the floor. Keep your eyes open to avoid losing your balance.
Next, lift all 10 toes off of the floor, noticing the arch in your foot as you do it, and then try to put your toes back down while still maintaining the arch. (Hold onto something for balance as needed.)
Last, rest your hands on the chair or dresser for balance and lift your heels off the floor while keeping your ankle aligned with the center of your foot (no rolling outward). As you lower your heels, keep reaching through the top of your head as though you’re continuing to grow taller as your heels lower down.
First, with your hands still resting on the chair, take two big steps back and fold forward at the hips to create a 90 degree angle with your body. Your spine should be long and neutral, your face looking toward the floor, and your legs either straight or slightly bent. If this is a challenging stretch, it will get easier over time. Keep your abdominals lifted and engaged.
Next, gently reach one arm directly out to the side while keeping your shoulders and hips square. Reach that arm underneath you past the opposite shoulder as though you were threading it, feeling the stretch and twist in your back, ribs and shoulder. Follow your hand with your eyes.
Last, pull the arm back through the starting position and reach it toward the ceiling as though you were reaching back and up to see something above you. Repeat with the other arm.
First, while still in the 90 degree fold with your hands resting on the chair, roll through a cat stretch by curling your spine starting at the tailbone. As your back rounds, use your glutes and abdominals to help you feel the stretch in your lower back as you inhale. Exhale as you roll back out and return to the neutral position.
Next, stand up straight, clasp your hands behind your head, gently press your head into your hands and lift your chest upward as you inhale. Exhale as you relax back to neutral.
Last, stretch your right arm overhead, gently grabbing that wrist with your left hand, and stretch the heel of your right hand up and slightly over while reaching the heel of your right foot further into the floor like the root of a tree. Repeat on the other side.
#4 Finish with a Moment of Gratitude
Finally, take a moment to stand quietly and notice how your body feels. Note where things feel more awake and engaged than when you first woke up. Pay attention to the spots where you might want to give some extra love and attention later in the day.
Allow yourself to express some gratitude for the body you have and what you’re able to do with it, whether that’s climbing a mountain or just moving through your day in an enjoyable, unrestricted way.
Elaine Economou helps people move with ease, strength, and joy. Her passion is empowering people to understand their unique bodies to build strength and do more of what they love. As co-founder of MOVE Wellness®, Elaine leads a global movement community of clients in high-caliber, in-studio and interactive livestream training [https://www.movewellness.com/pilates-livestream-classes/].