Aging is a natural part of life. Physiologically, during a process called sarcopenia, our bodies lose 3–5% of our muscle mass after age 30. Our fascia, the connective tissue that webs our bodies together, also begins to dry out and become tougher, creating more stiffness and further inhibiting the way our muscles move. Exercise alone is not the answer; there are many factors involved in supporting healthy aging: eating well, sleeping well, exercising well, reducing levels of inflammation, and most importantly—getting Rolfed! It’s time to look seriously at what you can do to help yourself. Better sooner than later, better something than nothing.
As a part of the normal aging process and especially during and after menopause, collagen weakens the tissues of the body—muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, veins, and arteries. This creates instability, which precipitates falls, creates more muscle strains and sprains, and puts joints in unstable positions. Many older people complain of problems with balance, which is largely due to this body-wide instability.
Benefits of Rolfing
Rolfing, over the ten-session series, is all about creating stability and balance throughout the entire body. This process works directly on soft tissue injuries, which create scar tissue that block normal muscular movement, repatterning the way we function and move. The deep manipulation of the fascial network that Rolfing provides brings the body back to its more normal fluid state. In general, Rolfing helps with stiffness that develops at this time of our lives, helps to increase range of motion, and increases energy levels. People who have been Rolfed say they experience being more grounded, feeling more present, and have a more positive attitude toward aging because they simply feel more fluid and free.
stiffness that develops at this time of our lives, helps to increase range of motion, and increases energy levels.
Breaking a sweat a few times a week can help keep muscles strong, help prevent cognitive decline, boost metabolism, keep blood sugar levels stable, and reduce risk of death. But healthy aging also involves creating certain lifestyle changes that prevent or decrease chronic inflammation.
The Importance of Reducing Inflammation
The process of inflammation is a natural result of some acute threat to the body. Swelling is part of a healthy immune reaction to an injury, such as with a sprained ankle. White blood cells increase and swarm the area. Ice and elevation do help; the body heals. The bigger problem lies with prolonged or chronic inflammation, which releases cortisol. The flooding of cortisol creates a fight-or-fight response, increases the amount of belly fat and fluid, and increases chronic stress, which can then attack internal organs. Chronic inflammation can also cause joint pain, memory loss, and affects the nervous, endocrine, and reproductive systems, opening us to the disease process that could be the beginning of the downfall of our health as we age.
Our typical American diet includes advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are present in most animal products. They are tied to development of chronic inflammation and certain metabolic and degenerative diseases and are linked to blood sugar-related disorders like diabetes. AGEs can be stored in the blood stream for up to 72 hours; smoking cigarettes will increase the amount of AGEs and are linked to the inflammatory process. Grilling, frying, and barbecuing increase AGEs in food due to the high temperatures of those cooking methods. It is best to reduce your consumption of red meat and decrease those high temperatures by poaching, stewing, and braising—all methods of slow cooking on low heat.
Increasing anti-inflammatory foods such as blueberries, blackberries, kale, dark red grapes, spinach, cauliflower, mustard greens and other dark leafy greens, avocado, coconut, walnuts, almonds, onions, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, turmeric, red wine in moderation, and fish can have a significant impact on your overall health. More healthy lifestyle changes include:
- avoid refined and processed foods and simple starches such as sugar and white flour
- avoid a high-fat diet and unhealthy fat (saturated and trans fats), and reduce salt intake
- stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke
- limit or avoid alcohol consumption
- get more sleep and exercise
Exercises for Improved Health
Our bodies require more care to handle some of the issues we face as we age. The focus of exercise should be on building core strength so that we can lift groceries or grandkids; on building leg strength so we can climb stairs and walk with ease; and on increasing balance so we can navigate the world. Weight-bearing exercises help build bone as well. Here are eight of the best exercises to do after 50 that help build muscle, get your heart pumping, and help lose weight:
1. Planks: Develop core strength that stabilizes your hips and back. Place forearms on the floor with shoulders directly over elbows, hands flat on floor or making a fist. Extend your legs into a plank; do not raise your butt or lower your stomach. Hold for 30 seconds, working up to 60 seconds and/or work up to straight arm planks.
2. Bird dog: Improves core strength and challenges balance. Start in the tabletop position with knees bent, hip width apart, and shoulders directly over wrists. Keeping square, raise right arm in front of you and extend left leg behind, keeping weight centered. Arm and leg should be in a straight line. Hold a few seconds, change to other side. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.
3. Single-leg toe touches: Improves stability and balance. Stand with weight on right foot, left foot slightly raised off ground, arms by your side or straight out to shoulder height. Stabilize core and keep your spine long, bend your right knee and touch right toes with left hand, at the same time extend your left leg behind you to help you balance. Press right foot firmly into ground to stand back up, bringing your left foot next to right foot. Repeat 8–12 reps per leg.
4. Box squats: Enforces functional movement of sitting down and getting up. Place a box or chair behind you, stand with feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Engaging your glutes and core, slowly lower your butt back and down, keeping weight into your heels. When butt touches the box or chair, push weight into your heels to come back up. Repeat three sets of 8–12 reps (you can use weights, resting one end of dumbbell lightly on shoulder with elbows straight); change tempo to vary workout.
5. Deadlifts: Improves posture and ability to lift things off the ground. Stand with feet hip distance apart. Place a kettle ball between arches of your feet and grip it with both hands, being sure your shoulders are above your hips and hips are above your knees. Engage core and keep your back flat. Push your shoulders back and down to activate your lats, press feet into ground, then lift kettle ball up to stand. Return kettle ball to ground with a straight back, do not allow chest to fall past hips. Perform three sets of 12 reps.
6. Standing shoulder presses: Aids in lifting heavy boxes, carrying big bags, and lifting overhead. Stand with feet shoulder width apart with a dumbbell in each hand. Raise to shoulder height with arms at 90-degree angle, engage core, press upward with biceps by your ears. Avoid arching your back or using legs. Return weights to your shoulders. Perform three sets of 8–12 reps.
7. Glute bridges: Strengthens pelvic floor and glutes, reduces incontinence. Lie on your back with feet flat on the floor and hands at your sides, tighten glutes, press hips up toward ceiling, lifting your butt off the floor and keeping torso in a straight line. Hold a few seconds, lower hips, repeat several times (to increase difficulty, bring your feet closer to your hips and add a resistance band above knees). Repeat three sets of 12 reps.
8. Resistance band arm rotations:
Helps with upper body mobility. Stand with feet shoulder width apart, each foot on a resistance band and each hand holding an end of a band. Pull bands apart toward your sides and rotate your arms forward and back, keeping shoulders back and down as you move. Perform three sets of 12 reps.
9. Try these exercises, stay active, keep moving, and shift to eating more consciously with a largely plant-based diet. As a Rolfer, I have coached my clients over the 40 years of my practice with healthy tips such as staying hydrated, eating a good amount of protein, and showing them ways to move, sit, and sleep that will keep their bodies in balance. That is what we all want—a body that is adaptable, strong, and ages easily and gracefully. Your health and well-being depend on your participation in your own life and your commitment to yourself. Enjoy!
“I am not a gym person. I seek the outdoors and have some favorite things I do regularly. As my job is very physical, applying pressure to bodies to find release patterns all day, I forego many of the typical traditional exercises. Dr. Ida Rolf, the founder of The Rolfing® Method of Structural Integration that I have practiced for forty years, did not believe in standard exercise, so I think I was influenced at a young age. She believed in activity—hoist that hay bale, rake that yard, carry those bags of weeds, sweep those floors, lift those groceries. I have the belief that our bodies support us well when we use them well.”
Sharon Sklar is in her 40th year of private practice as a Certified Advanced Rolfer®. State licensed and the only Rolfer in Central CT, Sharon works with direct manipulation of the soft tissue of the body and movement re-education over a ten-session series to help her clients feel freer, get more balanced and reduce chronic pain. Great for athletes, children, and adults recovering from injuries, stress, and the traumas of life. Call 860.561.4337 for more information or to schedule a consultation. www.SharonSklarRolfing.com.